Mo Farah’s Tokyo hopes in balance after disappointing return to track

Mo Farah is facing an uphill struggle to make his fourth Olympic Games after finishing eighth and failing to record the qualifying time for Tokyo at the European Cup in Birmingham. Farah, who was running his first 10,000m for four years, was expected to easily run the 27:28:00 time needed.

But long before the end his body was failing him and he was even beaten by his fellow Briton Marc Scott in a sprint finish. Farah’s finishing time, 27:50:54 was his slowest for years.

The 38-year-old will have another three weeks to run the qualifying standard but the chances of him making it, let alone defending his 10,000m title in Tokyo, now look slim. Scott was seventh in 27.49:83 in a race won by France’s Morhad Amdouni in 27:23:27.

Farah was one of 12 British athletes competing at the European 10,000m Cup, which doubled up as the British trials for the Tokyo Olympics. The word from Farah’s camp was that he was in excellent shape after a training camp in Flagstaff, Arizona, and he made an early point to his rivals by taking the lead on the opening lap, which was run in a fast 62 seconds. From then on though he slipped back, and was struggling long before he began to grit his teeth over the closing laps.

But the evening, inevitably, was centred on Farah’s attempt to make his fourth Olympics. The last time he had raced over 10,000m he won gold in front of adoring 54,000 home fans at the 2017 London World Championships. This time, because of Covid, there were barely a few hundred people – mostly volunteers and officials – watching on. Much else has changed in the last four years.

Back then Farah was near his prime. Now he is nearing his 40th birthday. And while his decision to move to the marathon was a lucrative experience, it was also a chastening one. How could it not be when he only won a solitary race over 26.2 miles – and never got close to world record holder Eliud Kipchoge when they met?

The competition over 10,000m has moved on too. Last year the 24-year-old Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei smashed the 5,000m and 10,000m world records, while his compatriot Jacob Kiplimo, who is just 20, recorded the sixth-fastest time in history. With another brilliant young African, the 21-year-old Kenyan Rhonex Kipruto, setting the 10km road record of 26:24 last year there are plenty of athletes heading to Tokyo who have run faster than Farah. No wonder Scott, his main British rival, recently suggested that he no longer carried “a big aura”.

And now, after Birmingham, Farah’s hopes of making it to Tokyo are in the balance. As things stand only six athletes have won two Olympic titles at 10,000m: Paavo Nurmi, Emil Zatopek, Lasse Viren, Haile Gebrselassie, Kenenisa Bekele and Farah. The chances of Farah defying history now seem impossible.

Earlier in the evening, Britain’s Eilish McColgan produced a thrilling last lap to chase down the Israeli athlete Selamawit Teferi to win the European Cup and also qualify for Tokyo. McColgan, the daughter of the former 10,000m world champion Liz, came through in 31:19:21. Not far behind in third was Britain’s Jess Judd, who ran a personal best of 31:20.84 to also book her place at the Olympics.

Meanwhile, in Jamaica another multi-Olympic champion made an even stronger statement as Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce ran 10.63sec for 100m – the second-fastest time by a woman in history. Fraser-Pryce, who won 100m gold at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and at the 2019 World Championships, was well beaten by Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith a fortnight ago on a cold, wet night in Gateshead a fortnight ago. But she found racing in perfect conditions at the National Stadium in Kingston much more to her liking.

She blasted out the blocks and was well clear by halfway before coming home to beat her own national record of 10.70, which she shared with Elaine Thompson-Herah. Only the American Florence Griffith Joyner, who ran 10.49 in 1988 but passed away a decade later, has only ever gone faster. “Honestly I never expected I would run 10.6 and think it’s a good thing because there was no pressure,” Fraser-Pryce told reporters as she screamed with excitement. “I’m lost for words because 10.6 has been a dream, a goal, I’ve been working so hard, being so patient to see it finally unfold. I’m so ecstatic.”

Going into the race, the Olympic favourite appeared to be 21-year-old American Sha’Carri Richardson, who ran 10.72 in the spring. Thompson-Herah ranks third in the world this year having run 10.78.

Meanwhile Asher-Smith only ran 11.35 in Gateshead but it was into a -3.1m/s headwind and driving rain. The 25-year-old Briton also insists that she is in far better shape than she was when finishing second at the 2019 world championships behind Fraser-Pryce in 2019.