9 Apr

What Can Mo Learn From History?

Mo Farah at the 2013 race

So, Mo. How will he go? On the eve of Mo Farah’s distance debut at Sunday’s Virgin Money London Marathon, there is real intrigue on how Britain’s double Olympic and World 10,000m and 5000m champion will fare.

Clearly he is the dominant distance runner on the track, but can he translate his superiority to the classic distance on the road? Many great athletes on the track have made the immediate jump, others have not.

It will be fascinating to see if Farah makes the great leap or falls short. Perhaps the best way is to take a look back in history and see how the other greats fared…

Liz McColgan
In 1991, the Scottish runner won World 10,000m gold just nine months after giving birth to Eilish – now an Olympian herself. Incredibly, still less than 12 months after first becoming a mother, she won the New York Marathon in November 1991. At the time, her winning time of 2:27:32 was the fastest ever for a female debutant.

Kenenisa Bekele
The most recent addition to the list and the man Mo inherited Olympic and World titles from. The Ethiopian tackled his first ever marathon in Paris on Sunday 6 April and made one of the best distance debuts in history, clocking 2:05:03 to win and send a message out that there is still plenty of life left in the four-times Olympic gold medallists legs.

Paul Tergat
Kenyan great who won five 10,000m medals in global championships. On the track, his nemesis was Haile Gebreselassie who stood in his way of several Olympic and World titles. But when he stepped up to the marathon, he hoped to dominate at a distance with which the great Ethiopian was still a few years from racing. Although Tergat had clear ability, the near misses continued and it took six attempts before he won. But when he did, he broke the world record, clocking 2:04:55 to win the Berlin Marathon.

Emil Zatopek
Perhaps the greatest debut of all? After winning the 5000m and 10,000m gold at the 1952 Olympic Games, the Czech entered the marathon at the last minute. In his first attempt at the distance and unsure of pacing, he ran alongside Great Britain’s Jim Peters who had tried to frighten off the track runner with a searing opening 15k. So when Zatopek asked a suffering Peters if the race was going okay so far, the Englishman tried to bluff the Czech by saying the pace was ‘too slow’. The plan backfired as the Czech kicked off into the distance for another gold and an Olympic record.  

Pauka Radcliffe
A world-class athlete, but not a world dominating athlete, Radcliffe’s best result of her track career up to 2002 had been 10,000m silver at the 1999 World Championships. Her lack of a last lap sprint was frequently exposed. But there was always the feeling that the marathon would be where Radcliffe’s strength and determination would suit her best. So it proved, she made her debut by winning London in 2002 just seven seconds shy of the world record. Twelve months later she smashed it as she clocked 2:15:25, a record that still stands today.

Haile Gebreselassie
Expectations were huge when the Ethiopian king of the track made his marathon debut in London in 2002. Time-wise, it was a superb first effort with 2:06:35. But in finishing third, it was largely seen as failure for the quadruple Olympic champion. He went on to win the Berlin Marathon on four occasions including breaking the world record in 2008. But he has never managed to win in London.

Zersenay Tadese
The Eritrean is a five-times World Half Marathon gold medallist and the world-record holder over the distance. Seemingly, he has all the tools to be a formidable marathon runner. Yet, his record shows why the 26.2 miles distance retains such mysticism. He made his debut at the 2009 London Marathon where he failed to finish. Despite several further attempts at the distance, his best result remains 14th at the 2012 London Marathon in 2:10:41.