Mo Farah interview: “I never saw myself as a different colour”

Britain's twice double-Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah reflects on family, faith and learning from his failures

I wasn’t focused when I was 16. I was just chilling out, going to school, seeing my friends. I wasn’t taking running seriously. It’s hard as a teenager, there are a lot of distractions. I’m not complaining but now I think if I’d listened to my coach more then maybe I could have been more successful. I could have won more medals.

My twin brother Hassan was born first. He used to always beat me up. He was chatty, much more popular and a lot smarter than me. All the exams that I failed, he passed first time [Hassan was left behind due to illness when Mo moved to England aged eight, and they were separated for 12 years]. I remember in London thinking tomorrow he’ll come, then the next day, then the next day. I was so excited at the thought we were going to be a family again. But in the back of my head was a voice saying, it might never happen. I tried to block that doubt in my mind. But the years went on and he never came. When we finally met again [in Somalia, aged 20] it was like nothing had changed. I was looking at myself. He was even skinnier than me! Not possible. I run, you don’t run, how can you be skinnier than me?

I was excited to move to London. I thought it was beautiful. I remember walking in, and the doors opened, and there were escalators. It was fascinating for me as a child. A new world – like when I went to Disneyland. And for me, it was where my family was, so it was home. Somalia was different, we never had our father. That’s the main reason we came to London, for our family to be as one.

I had white friends, black friends. I was easy going. The occasional comment, I just chose not to hear it

It was difficult to adapt to London at first but when you’re aged eight, you somehow find a way. You make friends. I was always quite accepted, I think because I never saw myself as different to anyone else, a different colour. I had white friends, black friends. I was easy going. The occasional comment, I just chose not to hear it. I was good at running so the kids liked me for that. If I hadn’t been into running I wouldn’t have made friends, met so many people and learned the language as quickly as I did.

My PE teacher took me to the local running club and I started going twice a week. Then I ran for Middlesex, then for England. I didn’t even know about the Olympics then. Then once I’d run for England I asked: “So what’s the next step?” And they said: “Great Britain.” So I said: “Right, I want to run for Great Britain.” Then I said: “Okay, I’ve done well, I’ve won for Great Britain, what’s the next step?” “European.” And I started to do my research, learned about Seb Coe, Steve Ovett, Crammy… I watched the Sydney Olympics when I was about 18, Haile Gebrselassie versus Paul Tergat. And that’s when I told myself, I want to become the Olympic Champion.

I was always a happy kid, up for laughs, joking around. And I always had that cheeky smile. If I was causing trouble I could get away with it because of that. I used it on my mum quite a lot. I was a lot closer to my mum than my dad. I’m a mummy’s boy really. When I got to know people I was quite a lad but with strangers or on camera, I was very shy. I hadn’t seen much, you know? But now I’ve travelled the world, I’ve met people, learned how to talk to them. I’m not shy now, not any more.

When I went back to Somalia after 12 years I went running in the street through the village. And people were like: “Oh my God, there’s a crazy man running!” Cos no one runs there. If you see someone running it means someone stole something or someone’s running from trouble. When I go back now I get mobbed and all the old ladies come out and say: “I used to know you when you were a little boy.” And almost everyone I meet seems to be my cousin. It’s like, cousin, cousin, cousin. I’m like, really? How many cousins do I have?

I don’t have a clue where my determination comes from. Maybe you’re just born with it. I look at my twin girls and they’re so different. One is so determined and the other is very laidback. You can’t give it to kids, they’re born with it. Everyone who’s done well in their sport has something special. For me, I know I just really hate losing. I will work as hard as I can to avoid it. Every race I lose I go home and analyse it. What did I do wrong? You think of everything. Did I pace myself? Did I work hard enough?

Everyone who’s done well in their sport has something special. For me, I know I just really hate losing

Having faith has kept me on the right path. If I hadn’t had that it would have been different. Feeling what will be will be, that kind of stuff. Some things are out of your control. I was brought up with that and I want to give it to my kids, let them do what they need to do. And be that good person that they can be.

I went training with the Kenyans so I could learn from them. And that’s when I realised I could be the best in the world. I thought, I could beat these guys. They didn’t know what they were dealing with, did they? They wouldn’t have let me in if they had.

Losing in Beijing 2008 is one of the best things that ever happened to me. In our religion we believe everything bad that happens is probably a good thing. It was like having a bucket of cold water thrown in my face. It was a voice saying, do something. There was a lot of doubt. I was in tears for a couple of weeks. It could have gone two ways; one would have been for me to say, I’m done, I can’t do this any more. The other was for me to say, I’m not going to let this happen again. How can I correct this? And that’s what I did.

I wish I could go back and run the 5K in London 2012 again. I’d rewind the whole race and enjoy each step. And I’d pause it going round the side, and just listen to the crowd. It was just incredible. If it wasn’t for the crowd I don’t think it would have happened. 100 per cent. That crowd lifts you, gives you that little extra bit of energy, that final push. You ever watch football? The last 10 minutes of a home match? You can see what happens when the crowd get behind the team. That’s what happened to me in London.