Not too much to report on the training front this week unfortunately. As my coach pointed out on the phone once, saying that distance runners are constantly ‘on the edge’ is not just a marketing slogan – when you’re training hard you’re pretty susceptible to illness and injury. I picked up some sort of virus last week and wasn’t able to run at all for about five days. I’m back running tentatively now and still hope to run BUCS 10,000m next week, but haven’t done much training to write about here.
In the meantime, here’s a brief article I wrote outlining my thoughts on Mo Farah’s appearance in the London marathon for anyone who still wants something to read.
Last Sunday, Mo Farah ran half of the London Marathon in 61.34. If he’d been in a half marathon race would have put him twelfth on the British all-time list, and made him over three minutes faster than any other British runner for a half marathon this year. In normal circumstances, we don’t begrudge people making large amounts of money for doing things considerably better than everyone else. In fact, there are few professions where you can actually objectively prove that you are the best in your field. Distance running is one of the few where you can, and where you can measure your superiority in seconds (and minutes in this case), and yet Mo’s appearance in London has attracted a blizzard of ire and gibberish, both from the media and from fellow athletes. He has been labelled a “money grabber” by numerous journalists as well as by Paula Radcliffe (who lives in Monaco for tax reasons) and Michael Johnson, who once injured himself having accepted a large amount of money for racing Donovan Bailey over 150m.
Criticising Mo Farah for running half of the London Marathon is especially short sighted given the lack of scrutiny given to athletes endorsements more generally. Mo has looked awkward in interviews all week as he’s been repeatedly forced to justify his decision to run and to reassure the public that it was not about the money. When he appeared on billboards with Usain Bolt and Richard Branson in the summer, endorsing broadband, I don’t remember him being made to squirm in front of TV cameras as he explained that that wasn’t about the money, that he was merely a passionate believer in fast internet connections and that he saw appearing in an advert as a ‘learning experience’ that could afford him a greater understanding of what it felt like to wear a fake beard.
Two British Olympians – a boxer and a gymnast seemingly forgotten now that we’ve almost reached the games’ one year anniversary – still grin out from Subway windows advocating their ‘personal best’ sandwiches. Jessica Ennis received very little criticism for using her wholesome image to rehabilitate that of BP during the Olympics, whose website also read ‘in honour of BP’s deep (a Freudian slip if ever I saw one) ties to the U.S we proudly announce our sponsorship of the United States Olympic Team’. Nike managed to turn Tiger Woods’ infidelity into a marketing campaign in 2010, and waited until the last possible moment – long after there was incontrovertible evidence of his drug taking – to drop Lance Armstrong. Given the unscrupulous nature of many endorsement deals, you’d hardly have been surprised if they’d tried to make that one work out in their favour too (i’d have gone for ‘Just Get Away With It. For Over a Decade’).
Sporting careers are short, and it is usually accepted that sportsmen and women have to make their money while they can, even if it involves endorsement deals with fast food outlets and oil companies. Mo’s appearance in London – as attested to by the vast numbers of people who turned out to watch – was above all else an endorsement of running, in the city in which he grew up and in an event which supported him in his early days when there was no guarantee he would make it to the heights he has now reached. Watching Mo’s beautifully manicured stride as he clipped along with the leaders on Sunday, I was with Brendan Foster, who is generally right about these things. ‘Mo’s the double Olympic champion’ he said, ‘he can do what he wants.’ Let’s turn our attention to the kinds of endorsements – McDonald’s would be a start – that are actually likely to decrease the likelihood of us getting more kids living healthy lifestyles and playing sport. Farah is a role model, not a money grabber.