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Farah postpones his date with legend as challengers for gold gather at Holyrood

Published on 7 January 2012

FOUR of the world's greatest endurance athletes will be on the start line at Holyrood today for the BUPA Great Edinburgh Cross Country.

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Sadly, despite the best efforts of the promoters, the only Brit capable of challenging them will not.

Mo Farah has eyes on the bigger picture – franking his world 10,000 metres title with Olympic gold in London. It makes no sense to hand rivals a psychological edge when they are ready to race and he is not.

Farah took the world 10k crown in Daegu, a first defeat at the distance in seven years for the iconic Kenenisa Bekele, but Farah needs no reminding that his rival dropped out after just 10 of the 25 laps. The Ethiopian may still have the marathon to conquer, which his agent, Jos Hermens, indicates will become an Olympic goal only in 2016. Yet Bekele is already enshrined beyond argument as the greatest endurance runner who ever laced up a spike. Witness three Olympic and five world titles at 5000 and 10,000m, 12 individual world cross-country crowns, and seven world track records.

Farah can weigh just a single world title against that, with the biggest question yet to be answered: can he beat Bekele? And the only relevant answer is the one to be delivered in the Lee Valley on August 4.

Bekele, however, has questions of his own to resolve. His last major cross-country appearance was here, two years ago. He was relegated to fourth by one of today's rivals, Eliud Kipchoge – one of just two occasions on which a fit Bekele has ever been beaten. That was his only race of 2010. Knee and calf injuries have troubled him since then, until he returned after defeat in Daegu to post the fastest 10k time of 2011.

Holyrood defines Bekele. It's where his 2008 victory made him the most decorated athlete in the history of the World Cross Country event, so it would be appropriate to answer the questions about his revival here.

It will be no soft examination for the reigning Olympic 5000m and 10,000m champion. He faces two other Olympic gold medallists, Kenyans Brimin Kipruto (steeplechase) and Asbel Kiprop (1500m); plus the Kenyan who claimed his scalp two years ago, former world champion and reigning Olympic 5000m silver medallist Kipchoge.

Even the presence of Spain's reigning European indoor and outdoor 1500m champions, Arturo Casado and Manuel Olmedo, won't be a factor. They will do well to get within 20 seconds of the African quartet.

Last year, the Edinburgh race organisers, Nova, worked hand in glove with Farah's team, including shipping altitude tents all over the world, so that Farah could sleep in a simulated environment as part of training. This year, with the World Indoor Championships at 3000m, and the Olympics, pressure is even more intense.

Former Scotland internationalist Andy Caine is elite projects manager for Nova, responsible for assembling today's field. Now 34, he was once a GB junior contemporary of Farah's.

"We want nothing more than to see Mo lift that gold medal at the Olympics," he says. "Obviously, we want Mo here and that takes a lot of planning, working with Alberto [Salazar, his coach], UK Athletics, Mo himself, and his manager. We tried unbelievably hard to get him, but you have to respect coaches' decisions. If it's not in the plan, you don't want to pressurise the athlete. Imagine if he came here, pushed too hard, did some damage, and was out of the Olympics."

Caine was 17 before he pulled on a pair of spikes. They belonged to his dad, John, who ran in the 1970 Commonwealth Games, on the Meadowbank track less than half a mile from today's cross country course. "I'd only ever run one race at school, a couple of weeks earlier. Dad said he'd got me into a race at South Shields, near our home, but I'd have to run with somebody else's number. I could not believe how many people were there, and I finished 116th. I hadn't a clue what the race was. It turned out to be the English national."

Two years later, he was fourth in the junior race, but his father, "having had the good sense to marry a Scot" as dad put it, made Andy eligible for Scotland, and he served the dark blue, reaching No.3 in the UK at 10k.

"I'd lived in the United States when I was about nine or 10, because dad and Brendan Foster were working there for Nike. There are photos of me with Steve Cram, but I hadn't a clue who he was!

"And I didn't have a clue about dad's running, never mind how good he was."

Seven years before Andy was born, Caine was fifth behind Lachie Stewart and Ron Clarke, in their memorable Commonwealth 10k duel.

The time Stewart ran then is still the Scottish native record, nearly 42 years on. And the 5000m times of Ian Stewart and Ian McCafferty, in taking gold and silver that week, were then third and fourth fastest ever. They also still include the Scottish native best.

In recording them, the pair beat the Olympic legend Kip Keino. That is the benchmark championship achievement which Farah must now be measured against. For since that race in 1970, Bekele's drop-out defeat apart, no UK endurance athlete has ever beaten an Olympic champion to win either a Commonwealth, world, or Olympic title.

Kiprop, who perhaps will provide the biggest challenge to Bekele today, received his Olympic gold just last month, singing his national anthem in a Nairobi hotel room. The medal was presented by Keino, Kenya's first Olympic 1500m champion.

Yesterday, Kiprop put a positive spin on that experience: "No Olympic gold medal has been presented in Africa. That makes it special to me."

This happened, of course, because Rashid Ramzi, of Bahrain, who crossed the line first in Beijing, tested positive for a banned blood-boosting substance. It has taken more then three years for the real winner to receive his gold.

You can take it that Kiprop will be very motivated today. And Farah will do well to remember that every man carries his own motivation within him. Others also have designs on the crown which he and Bekele covet this year.

BUPA Great Edinburgh Cross-country. BBC1, 1pm

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