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Am I the only one left cold at prospect of Farah v Bolt over 600 metres?

Mo Farah was most probably somewhat disorientated when he sprinted over the finish line in the slipstream of Kenenisa Bekele at the Great North Run on Sunday, so unaccustomed is he to finishing in second place.

Mo Farah and Usain Bolt swap their traditional victory poses at the 2012 London Olympics but should they be encouraged to race over a distance not traditionally staged? Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Mo Farah and Usain Bolt swap their traditional victory poses at the 2012 London Olympics but should they be encouraged to race over a distance not traditionally staged? Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire

The Brit finished just one second behind Ethiopia's Bekele, in what was both men's half-marathon debut, with Bekele's compatriot Haile Gebrselassie in third place. The sprint finish was a fittingly dramatic end to a race which boasted perhaps the strongest half-marathon field ever assembled.

In the last year or so, Farah's performances have elevated him to a level where he is justifiably considered one of the world's greatest distance runners of all time. He has certainly cemented himself as the greatest British distance runner of all time, having won five global titles in the past two years: 10,000m World Championship gold in 2011, the 5000m and 10,000m double at London 2012 and a repeated of that at the World Championships this summer.

Yet more excitement has been generated around Farah's proposed 600m race against the 100m and 200m world record holder Usain Bolt than by any of his medal-winning performances. Great has been the hype about a proposed meeting between the two: who would prevail in a race between the greatest distance runner and the greatest sprinter? I may be the only person who doesn't really care. I am not yearning to see these two greats meet over a randomly chosen distance, over which neither have ever raced before, nor trained for.

It worries me that this is what athletics evidently feels it has to resort to in order to grab the attention of the public. The sport is currently struggling horribly for credibility: numerous high-profile positive drugs tests in recent months has resulted in athletics assuming the dubious title of 'dirtiest sport on the planet' from cycling. If athletics is to regain its place at the top of the Olympic tree, where it was a couple of decades ago, and get back to being a genuinely mainstream sport rather than one which graces our television screens only occasionally, then something must change.

The prevailing doping situation surrounding athletics could prove to be irrevocably damaging to the sport. The reputation of track and field is hanging by a thread. Of the 10 fastest 100m runners in history, only two have not failed a drugs test or been implicated in a doping scandal; Bolt is one of them. The positive tests this summer of former World Champion Tyson Gay and former world record holder Asafa Powell have caused untold damage to the sprinters fraternity. Athletics needs to clean up its act, and soon.

However, should the clamour for the proposed Farah-Bolt match-up come to fruition, it is in no way a feasible route for athletics to follow in order to regain credibility or popularity in the long term. It reminds me of two kids ferociously arguing over who would win a fight between Batman and Superman. If Farah's distance running dominance or Bolt's record-breaking, charismatic sprinting performances, never mind some of the raw, breathtaking performances of athletic brilliance of the past, are not enough to ignite interest in the sport then stick a fork in it; it's done.

In fact, neither Farah nor Bolt was the standout performer on the track at London 2012; that accolade surely went to Kenya's David Rudisha for his record-breaking 800m gold medal-winning run. For all of these great sportsmen's performances to be overshadowed by a Mickey-Mouse, money-making fabrication of a competition is nothing less than an insult to the athletes in question. To reduce their greatness over contrasting distances to a frivolous 600m gimmick would be, in my view, criminal.

There are few crossover contests which do nothing but devalue the sport and the athletes who compete in them. At the end of last year, Oscar Pistorius raced against an Arabian horse in Doha. The Paralympian won but such stunts serve only to turn athletes into some kind of circus performer.

Similarly, when there was talk this summer of Andy Murray taking on Serena Williams in a 21st century rerun of the 1973 Bobby Riggs-Billy Jean King, man versus woman match, I despaired. King's victory may have done much for gender equality in those days, but a Murray-Williams contest would do little other than emphasise the hardly unexpected gap in standard between the players at the top of the men's and women's game.

Predictions as to who would prevail between Farah and Bolt have already begun. The analysis is laughable. And anyway, what would the outcome prove? Absolutely nothing. It would be as instructive as a race between a unicorn and a mermaid. Farah will still be the greatest distance runner of recent years, Bolt the greatest sprinter.

And athletics will be none the better for the sideshow.

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