• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Farah has more than paid his dues; Johnson should know better . . .

DEREK HAWKINS, the leading British finisher in the Virgin London Marathon on Sunday, was back at work yesterday evening, stacking supermarket shelves.

Mo Farah, centre, approaches halfway after crossing Tower Bridge
Mo Farah, centre, approaches halfway after crossing Tower Bridge

The Kilbarchan athlete claimed the scalp of double Olympic champion Mo Farah, who dropped out just before half distance. Hawkins yesterday declined World Championship selection; he says there's insufficient time to recover and do himself justice, but says the Frankfurt marathon, three months later, "is a possibility".

Hawkins will pocket $1500 as first Brit in London, a very modest incentive to improve the standard of British marathon running, though time bonuses (for which the 23-year-old Scot did not qualify) are also paid. His reward is peanuts compared to the £450,000 Farah reputedly earned for his half shift in London, plus the full course next year.

Yet I cannot share the outrage which greeted Farah's decision to serve an apprenticeship over 20k on Sunday. Michael Johnson, the former Olympic 200 metres and 400m champion, was scathing. The Texan said that "participation in only half the race looks like it is all about the money, and that leaves him open to criticism".

It was clear from the home crowd's reception that they disagreed with Johnson. Event organisers and sponsors were delighted they could persuade Farah to settle for half measure.

Johnson, supreme in his era and still world 400m record-holder, is an exceptional analyst of his sport, yet has a short memory. After his Atlanta double, he raced over 150m against the Olympic 100m champion and world record-holder, Donovan Bailey, for the title of world's fastest man. The world governing body declined to sanction this race with just two starters.

Despite being handicapped by having the inside lane in the Toronto Sky Dome, Canada's Bailey was clear off the bend; Johnson clutched a hamstring, and dropped out. Coincidentally, as Farah supporters may like to note, at around half distance. That's half of 150m, not 26 miles . . .

Bailey claimed Johnson knew he was beaten and had bottled it, but the American still pocketed $500,000 for barely eight seconds' running. Bailey finished in 14.99 seconds, collecting $1.5m. That same weekend in Cardiff, Scotland's Ian Mackie ran an identical time over the same distance, easing off. The only Brit to run faster was the serial doping offender, Linford Christie. Fifer Mackie received nothing for his pains. The Toronto race was designed to help resuscitate a dying sport in North America. The 1996 Olympic stadium was packed, but the following year, four US indoor and two outdoor meetings folded. Interest in athletics has not been rekindled since in the US, doubtless one reason why Johnson now plies much of his trade here.

Johnson signed a $12m kit deal which his agent described as "the most profound commitment a track athlete has ever received from a corporate endorsement of any kind". A bonus clause delivered an additional fortune when he broke the world one-lap record when taking world gold in Seville in 1999, and again with two Olympic titles in 2000. Johnson commanded a fee of $100,000 for 20 or 44 seconds' running. He contested 14 major races outside championships between his Olympic double and the end of 1997. None threatened his world records.

The marathon exacts such a toll that elite competitors run just two per year, one of which is often a championship, unpaid, for their country. And on Sunday Farah ran at inside world-record pace for almost an hour.

Every sportsman, or woman, begins by doing something they love and enjoy. Those blessed with great talent might end up making money, but long after they have paid their dues, in training and sacrifice. More than most, Johnson should know this. His rant smacks of little more than mean-spirited jealousy and headline-seeking.

The mercenary card might far more appropriately have been dealt to him. He declined to race again in Britain after the fee for his 1997 appearance over 200m at Crystal Palace, went unpaid because of the British governing body's bankruptcy. Three UK athletes beat the under-performing Johnson who finished fifth, a second-and-a-half outside his world best.

In sport, as in life, the labourer is worthy of his hire. Competitors are paid what the market will bear, but athletes are very much sport's poor relations.

Witness the endorsement income, appearance fees, and prize money in golf and tennis where players reap competitive benefits far more frequently than in track and field.

The leading 100 on the PGA Tour in the USA topped $1m in prize money last year while another 40 European Tour players did so. This is more than Farah will earn in two years from London, and he must complete next year's race to fulfil obligations. Few golfers limp off the course in mid-tournament, but that's a routine hazard for marathon gladiators, some of whom may never run again.

And of course, that was only golf prize money. Sponsorships far outweigh that. Woods was the world's highest-earning sportsman for a decade. Since his hydrant escapade, he has slipped to No.2, with income halved to around $58m per year.

In tennis last year, 10 players topped £1m in prize money, and each more than doubled that in off-court income. Andy Murray earned $5.7m in prize money, plus $12m in endorsements. Even more excessive rewards are available in over-hyped boxing, football, and Formula One.

Farah is worth every penny.

Contextual targeting label: 
Finance

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

153805