Last night in Manchester felt like the end of an era. Mo Farah was unable to qualify for the 10,000m at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which felt unthinkable earlier this month.
The four-time Olympic champion is a legend of British sport and will go down as one of the country’s greatest ever athletes. But at 38, it looks like age may have caught up with him and it is unclear whether we will see much more of him in the sport - especially on the track.
Farah was 19 seconds outside of the qualifying time at the British Athletics Championships, which also doubles up as the Olympic trials, finishing in 27:47.04 - he needed to go under 27 minutes and 28 seconds. He also missed the time at the European Athletics 10,000m Cup in Birmingham earlier this month, but blamed that on an ankle injury. Fans believed that was just a blip and he would secure his place on the plane to Japan comfortably now that he had overcome the issue.
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He was well on course at the halfway mark, flanked by pacers and his long-time training partner Bashir Abdi. But Farah faded and admitted with five laps out, he knew his chances were pretty much over.
The question now is, what is left? Farah is a hugely ambitious athlete but he says he will not continue if he cannot compete with the best.
"I don't know what to think or what's next for me,” he said.
I just have to have a chat with my team and see what's next. If I can't compete with the best, why bother?
"There's no excuse in terms of conditions, it is what it is. I genuinely thought I'd come out here, get the time and then go back to the training camp.
"I've had some decent sessions since my little niggle but I thought I should be able to run that. I've always said if I can't compete with the best I'm not just going to go there to make the team.
"I've had an amazing career, thinking about it tonight it's a bit shocking and I don't really know what to say.
"I'm lucky enough to have so many medals, I'm one of these athletes who, if you can't compete with the best, why bother?"
It cut a pessimistic tone, but this was the heat of the moment. Farah has not looked out of place in longer distance races on the road and over cross-country in recent times, but he told Eurosport recently it is the track where he finds his happy place.
Runners can typically prolong their career on the road. Farah has already tried that, though, and ultimately gave up on Olympic marathon ambitions. Over 26.2 miles he was unable to match up with the greatness of Eliud Kipchoge, but still produced a brilliant performance to win the Chicago Marathon - one of the top events over the distance.
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His sweet spot, at the moment, seems to be the half-marathon. The problem for Farah is that they just do not command the same attention - or TV coverage - as either the track events or the marathon.
Farah has not decided whether to continue on the track, move back to the road or hang up his carbon-plated shoes. He will likely let things breathe for a while before making such a huge call.
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If he does retire, we will celebrate a phenomenal athlete. A boy from Somalia who made Britain his home, he became the UK’s most decorated track and field sportsperson and made history by becoming on the second to win the distance ‘double double’ at the Olympics, following up his 5,000m and 10,000m golds at London 2012 by doing the same at Rio 2016. Throw in six World Championship victories, and it has been a truly exceptional career.
If he is not in the shape required to top the podium in Tokyo, perhaps not going there in the first place is actually a blessing. No-one would want to see him struggle among the world’s elite on the biggest stage.
But if this is the end for Farah, British fans need a chance to say goodbye properly and show their appreciation - perhaps a farewell event. A coronavirus-restricted crowd on an unseasonably cold and windy night in Manchester is not the way to go out. Farah loves the big time - and he deserves a proper send-off.
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