Twin Ambitions: My Autobiography, by Mo Farah

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farah twin ambitions

Mo Farah, Twin Ambitions
2014, Hodder Paperbacks, 384 pages

Twin Ambitions: My Autobiography

by Mo Farah

Mo Farah’s life traces an astonishing journey. From playing street football and causing mischief with his twin brother in Djibouti, through learning to look after himself in a tough London school as a skinny kid who couldn’t speak English, to crossing the line for his second Olympic gold medal in seven days in London in 2012, this is a journey full of optimism, determination, and hard graft.

The book kicks off with a bang, as Mo describes the excitement, tension, and eventually the jubiliation of the 5,000 metres final on 11th August 2012. The sheer will and effort of the victory is palpable, as is Mo’s initial disbelief at his monumental double gold.

The proceeding chapters tell us the story of his life up to that point.

Mo spent his early childhood in Somaliland, and then moved to live with his grandparents in Djibouti. His father was largely absent, working in Europe. He tells colourful stories of making mischief with his twin brother and best friend Hassan, as well as his efforts to disguise his inability to read due to undiagnosed dyslexia.

In unexpected circumstances, Mo was separated from Hassan at the age of ten, when he moved to London with his mother while Hassan had to stay behind because of ill health. It was a split that caused deep anguish for Mo, particularly as the homesick youngster struggled with language and cultural uncertainty in his new home. He quickly learnt how to stick up for himself, and his mental toughness is evident in some of his early encounters at school in London.

Football was Mo’s passion. His sporting talent was spotted by a PE teacher, and the man who would become his mentor and lifelong friend, Alan Watkinson. It was Watkinson who realised Mo’s prodigious talent for running. In amusing accounts of cross country PE lessons, Mo reports how he would misunderstand the English instructions for the course, head off at the front in the wrong direction, run considerably further than everyone else and still finish first.

Alan Watkinson persuaded Mo to join the local athletics club, and he took him under his wing, often giving up many hours to drive Mo to races or to organise paperwork including resolving problems with visas. These hours of quiet, patient support, including going far out of his way to support the teenager, must have felt richly rewarded for Alan as he saw Mo’s talent blossom.

On leaving school, Mo gained a London Marathon funded scholarship to St Mary’s University in Richmond. However, the real turning point in his running life seemed to come when he left St Mary’s, and spent 18 months living with Kenyan athletes in the PACE house in Teddington. Here he lived with a changing group of athletes, which at various times included Olympic champions, World champions and world record holders. Mo describes seeing how these incredible athletes lived, and the impact this had on his thinking:
“‘If I want to beat these guys,’ I told myself, ‘then I’ve got to do exactly what they’re doing.’ It was like a switch had been turned on inside my head… From that day my attitude changed completely.”

Mo goes on to describe the highs and lows of his developing career, including the disappointment of fractionally losing to Jesús España in the 5,000m at the 2006 European Championships (a fantastic photo of this race finish perfectly captures the joy of winning and despair of losing side by side). He made the GB team for the Beijing Olympics, but that was to be another huge disappointment for Mo: he didn’t make it through to the final of the 5,000m.

The improvement that occurred between 2008 and 2012 has a lot to do with Mo’s move to Alberto Salazar’s training camp. As well as giving an account of the training environment, Mo also gives us a more personal story of the difficulties and upheaval of moving his family, including his stepdaughter Rihanna just as she was school-starting age. We then follow his journey to London 2012 and beyond.

Some fascinating insights are provided through the book into how Mo’s tough mental mindset has been one of the chief assets in his armoury. He says:
“There are some extremely talented people who fall into a trap of believing that because they have talent, they don’t have to work hard. I was never fooled by that. I took the toughness and the work ethic that I’d learnt as a child in Gebilay and Djibouti and carried it with me into competitive running. The pain was no big deal. I could handle the pain. If it hurt, it didn’t really matter to me. I would keep on running, no matter what.”

The book includes colour plates with photographs from Mo’s racing past and his personal life, which illuminate and bring the story to life.

This book is available in The Flying Runner bookshop.
Click here to find it.

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