Sir Mo Farah is a fitting title for Britain’s greatest athlete

Mo Farah is the finest athlete Britain has ever produced CREDIT: PA

Arise Sir Mo. How good that sounds. How right, how appropriate, how proper. And how timely.

The knighthood bestowed in the New Year’s Honours list to Mo Farah is not simply a recognition of the fact that he is a multiple bullion-bedecked champion in an era when global competition has never been more intense. It has been given, too, in acknowledgement of the joy, the pleasure, the spring in the collective step he has gifted his fellow citizens across successive Olympics and World Championships.

When his Porsche-like acceleration leaves the rest of the field panting in his wash, when his full-beam grin dazzles as he breaks the line, when he brings his fingers to his head and mimes out the letter M, how he cheers up the nation. When he runs, how we bask in the prestige he brings.

Given that chancers such as Philip Green have been recipients of similar gongs, that alone might be sufficient cause for celebration. Yet the symbolic significance of Farah’s award lifts it way above the routine. As an appreciation of what we as a society believe is valuable it could not have been better timed.

When that other sporting knight Sir Bradley Wiggins announced his retirement from professional cycling this week, he suggested that his array of titles was something that “kids from Kilburn didn’t do. Until now”. Farah can boast of delivering an even more compelling first: kids fleeing war-torn Somalia and seeking sanctuary in Britain did not become knights of the realm. Until now.

His journey from terrified refugee to elegant champion of the track has already been the subject of a big-screen retelling. And no wonder: what an extraordinary tale it is; one of poverty, of victimhood, of life-threatening danger. But what is so compelling about it is what it tells us about the mutual benefits that can come from a society granting sanctuary to those in urgent need.

Because Farah was not an athlete when he arrived in London as a child. Unlike the countries that border his place of birth, in Somalia there is no inherent running culture. Children do not run to school, men do not run to work on the fields, women do not run to collect water as they do in Ethiopia or Kenya. On the occasions Farah has subsequently returned to visit relatives in Mogadishu he has always turned heads when he goes out for a run; everyone wonders what this strange bloke is up to.

It was here in Britain he discovered his gift, here he learnt how to hone his craft, here he was given the backing, support and encouragement. And having been offered such opportunity, he was not about to let it slip through his fingers. When he failed to qualify for the finals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, he set off on a ruthless search for improvement, employing the best coaches, seeking out the best training methods, relentless in the quest to realise the genius within him. So determined was he to repay the nation that gave him succour that doing all right was never an option. He had to become the best.

That dedication paid off. In his golden double of victories in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at London 2012, what was remarkable to watch was his absolute refusal to yield. Alone up against the wily and experienced Ethiopians and Kenyans who combined in the attempt to smother his threat, he came through. That he repeated his double in Rio was extraordinary affirmation of his determination, his hunger, his excellence.

While, as Alistair Brownlee rightly pointed out, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year electorate have never properly recognised his astounding achievements, at least the ruling establishment has done the right thing.

Because the truth is that Farah is the finest athlete this nation has ever produced. Now he has the title to acknowledge it.

Along with Dame Katherine [Grainger], Dame Jessica [Ennis-Hill] and Sir Andy [Murray], Sir Mo’s title is a reflection of the fact we live in the most golden of sporting ages. For those of us of a certain age, the very idea that in the same year we would have seen Britons winning the Masters golf, the Tour de France, Wimbledon and picking up 27 Olympic golds would have seemed preposterous. In sport there is no need to apply rose-tinted spectacles. It is not the past, it is the here and now that is bathed in glory. And at the very front of the race, as always, is Sir Mo, our jet-heeled knight.

Saturday, December 31, 2016


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