It takes something to upstage Usain Bolt in an Olympic Stadium. Then again, there is only one long-distance runner quite like Mo Farah.
The British great came out onto the track Friday after Bolt had absorbed the adulation of the crowd just by showing up and coasting to victory in his opening 100-meter heat.
For Bolt it was easy. Farah still had one of the toughest races of his life coming up — an all-out assault by the best African runners to wear him down to sap his finishing speed. There was even a trip and stumble on the final lap that could have felled him.
“I am mentally strong,” said the 34-year-old Farah, who was born in Somalia but moved to Britain as a child.
There was no doubt about that after a 300-meter final kick that still left him with time to cross the finish line with arms outstretched and the same amazement in his eyes he had when winning his first Olympic gold in the same stadium five years ago.
“It was about believing in my sprint finish and knowing that I have been in that position before,” Farah said.
The last time he was not in that position was when his sprint left him just short for gold at the 2011 world championships. It was the last time he lost a big one, and his overpowering kick has always been his ticket to gold.
One year after that disappointing finish, Farah earned his first 5,000-10,000 double, and it was at his home Olympics in London. His 10,000 win was the finale of what became known in British lore as “Super Saturday,” when home athletes won three gold medals within an hour.
The noise that day was breathtaking, and if Farah is now a sir, it originated at that very moment.
On Friday, the noise levels were close to the same and Farah knew how to let it push him to an unprecedented 10th straight global long-distance title.
After Bolt’s grins and shadow boxing, Farah came out with a focused routine of sipping and squirting a water bottle, a figure of Zen concentration. He knew the whole nation was counting on him.
“There’s no place like London. There’s no place like home,” Farah said. “I love London. I love the people.”
For a half decade now, competitors know a tactical race only leads to a winning Farah sprint. So this time the best of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia set a punishing pace from the start to shake the pack — but not Farah’s concentration.
“The guys gave it to me. It wasn’t about Mo, it was about, ‘How do we beat Mo?’” Farah said.
He held back at first and then methodically made his way through the pack. When he briefly took the lead with five of the 25 laps to go, his rivals were already anxiously glancing at him.
Sensing victory, the crowd of 60,000 went wild with two laps to go. One thought was with him: “I can’t lose in my hometown. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.”
Then, as if there wasn’t enough drama already, he was clipped with 300 metres to go. His arms flailed and he even put one foot inside the inner railing to regain his balance.
There, too, his experience counted. After all, he fell at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and still won. And after years of being hounded by suspicions of doping — never proven and always denied — nothing phases him.
“Your instinct is to stand up,” he said of the moment momentum was taking him down. “At the same time, it takes the rhythm out of you, takes that stride out of you. It’s harder to be able to get back into your routine.”
Yet, he did. In the finishing straight, like so often, there was no match, as much Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda and Paul Tanui of Kenya tried.
“Mo is a great guy and legend, so running with him in the last championship for him is really great,” Cheptegei said.
Another double might just be too good to resist. Farah will now be preparing for the heats of the 5,000 metres on Wednesday.
If all goes to plan, he can then retire with Bolt on Saturday — both with two more golds around their neck.