Mo Farah – the reigning Olympic champion over 5,000 and 10,000 metres, and arguably Britain’s greatest ever athlete – made a winning return to the track yesterday evening, coming first in the 5,000 metres at the Diamond League meeting in Lausanne.
Farah is part of the Nike Oregon Project, based in Portland and established in 2001, whose head coach is Alberto Salazar. Following a joint investigation by Panorama, a BBC current affairs programme, and ProPublica, an independent newsroom which operates out of New York City, in early June Salazar was accused of a protracted involvement in doping.
Though several athletes and coaches previously connected to the Nike Oregon Project have reportedly raised concerns with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the accusations against Salazar centre upon Galen Rupp. Rupp – the current United States record holder over 10,000 metres – was coached to high-school success by Salazar before joining the Nike Oregon Project.
It is asserted that Rupp was given the banned anabolic steroid testosterone from as early as 2002, when he was aged just sixteen years old. While some of the interviewed athletes have suggested that Rupp’s relationship with Salazar appeared exceptional, others have posited that an illicit use of testosterone and thyroid medication extended to other runners. It is also argued that Salazar was coaching Mary Decker Slaney when the American middle-distance champion tested positive for testosterone back in 1996.
Both Salazar and Rupp immediately denied the claims, Salazar telling the BBC in a statement that the ‘allegations your sources are making are based upon false assumptions and half-truths in an attempt to further their personal agendas’. Towards the end of June Salazar published a 12,000-word document, denying at length any involvement in doping, and attempting to explain what he depicted as a number of misconceptions.
In response – after pulling out of the Diamond League meeting in Birmingham in the immediate aftermath of the allegations, but stressing ‘I have not taken any banned substances and Alberto has never suggested that I take a banned substance’ – Farah committed to continue working with Salazar. He stated, ‘As someone I’ve worked with for many years, I feel I have to believe in Alberto and the evidence he has provided’.
Farah has worked with the Nike Oregon Project and Salazar since 2011. The relationship maintains the approval of British Athletics, under whose guidance Farah also trains. British Athletics have noted that they are responsible for the nutritional, medical, and sports science aspects of Farah’s training regime; and they also oversee his physiological testing.
As the story rumbled on – with additional information released in drabs, or previously-stated accusations recast – it was revealed that Farah missed two drugs tests prior to the 2012 Olympics: one in early 2010, and the other in early 2011. At the time, three missed tests within a period of eighteen months could have led to a hearing, and a potential ban of up to two years. Farah has not missed a drugs test since. And by the end of 2010 – before he joined up with the Nike Oregon Project – Farah had already broken numerous British records and achieved European golds.
USADA and UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) are reported to be conducting ongoing investigations into Salazar.
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A strong field started the men’s 5,000 metres in Lausanne. The seventeen-year-old Ethiopian runner Yomif Kejelcha holds the fastest time of the year, at 12:58.39; and it was he who Farah overtook with just over 100 metres remaining, showing an impressively strong kick-finish. This was Farah’s first 5,000 metres of the season, and his first race in six weeks.
As he surged over the finish line, Farah threw out his arms and beat at his chest in emotion. A squabble with the snide and irascible Andy Vernon should not dampen his mood. He is looking ahead to the last week of August and the World Championships in Beijing, where he will defend his 5,000 and 10,000 metre world titles.
Elsewhere in Lausanne, Nijel Amos overcame David Rudisha in the closing stages to maintain his supremacy in the men’s 800 metres. Nineteen-year-old Zharnel Hughes took victory in the men’s 200 metres, running a personal best of 20.13. Born in the British overseas territory of Anguilla, Hughes only last month became eligible to compete for Great Britain.
Sifan Hissan won the women’s 1500 metres, her second Diamond League triumph of the season so far. Shaunae Miller stormed to victory in the women’s 400 metres, achieving a personal best of 49.92. Dawn-Harper Nelson emerged victorious in a competitive women’s 100 metre hurdles. And Allyson Felix held off her challengers in the women’s 200 metres, with Dafne Schippers managing a season’s best but finishing second, and Murielle Ahouré coming third.
Anna Chicherova took the women’s high jump, beating Ruth Beitia and establishing a new world-leading height of 2.03. Keshorn Walcott threw a Trinidad and Tobago national record of 90.16 to win the men’s javelin. In the men’s pole vault, Pawel Wojciechowski recorded a season’s best of 5.84, consigning Renaud Lavillenie to third place.
Though no Diamond League points were at stake, a world-class field was out on show for the men’s 100 metres. Justin Gatlin held his form to overcome Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay.
Just last Saturday, at the Diamond League meeting in Paris, Powell ran the third-fastest 100 metres of the year, with a time of 9.81. But while both he and Gay ran 9.92 in Lausanne, Justin Gatlin clocked an outstanding 9.75: matching the time he set a month ago in Rome, and just failing to equal the world-leading 9.74 which he established in May in Doha.
Still, the performance of the night came in the men’s triple jump. The event is proving one of the most exciting across this season’s athletics calendar, built on the remarkable rivalry between Christian Taylor of the United States and Pedro Pablo Pichardo of Cuba.
At the end of May in Havana, Pichardo jumped a distance of 18.08 – advancing his personal best and world lead by two centimetres. The feat made Pichardo the third-longest triple jumper of all time, behind only Great Britain’s Jonathan Edwards and the USA’s Kenny Harrison.
In Lausanne, Pichardo managed an excellent jump of 17.99. But on this occasion, Christian Taylor surpassed his effort, with a meet-record distance of 18.06. Thus Taylor slots in just behind Pichardo, as the fourth-longest triple jumper on record. Jonathan Edwards’ world record of 18.29 remains some way off – but Taylor became only the second jumper, after Edwards in Gothenburg in 1995, to go beyond eighteen metres twice during a meet.