Personal best: an exclusive interview with Sir Mo Farah
As he hopes to return to the Olympic running track, the UK’s greatest ever athlete Sir Mo Farah tells us about his perfectly timed collaboration with Arnold & Son – and shares his definition of success.
If asked to name the world’s greatest athletes, it would be fair to say that the name Sir Mo Farah would feature on many peoples list. During his illustrious career the long-distance runner, 38, has accumulated 10 global titles – including four Olympic Gold medals.
Now, he has his sights set firmly on competing in the Tokyo Games, where success could see him become the first athlete ever to win a distance event in three consecutive Olympics. It is this remarkable athleticism and drive combined with Farah’s humble nature and warm sense of humour that has seen him become one of the UK’s best known and beloved sports stars.That warmth shines through even when speaking of his record-breaking success.
“People may laugh, but my approach is to keep it simple,” he says, when we ask about how he develops mental resilience when competing at such an unfathomably high level.
“Every race, I just go out there to do my best and nothing more than that. If you think too much about everything going on around you, it becomes stressful and actually makes performing harder.”
Outside the world of sports, Farah’s work includes an ambassadorial role with Save the Children as well as a fashionable partnership with British-Swiss watch brand Arnold & Son.
Known for its stylish aesthetic and unique dials, Arnold & Son describes itself as a Swiss watchmaker with English roots, and Farah first approached the brand in 2020.
The watch brand’s president Bertrand Savary explains that the collaboration, first launched later that year, was a no-brainer “after discussing [Farah’s] passion for watches and the importance of time in his life”.
“Sir Mo has a very tight connection with time,” he says. “Like with one of our timepieces, consistency, regularity and application are essential for him to succeed. Sir Mo is also British with another origin, and that, too, connects to Arnold & Son today.”
While Arnold & Son describes the collaboration with Farah as a tribute to their shared “British values of exception, endurance and elegance”, Farah, too, felt a pull to the watchmaker’s call to design-led innovation.
“I think the connection between an athlete and watchmaker is a very natural one,” Farah says. “We are both focused on time and both constantly seeking ways to be better. “To have the opportunity to form a relationship with a watch brand that is steeped in British values and is now constantly pushing the boundaries with innovation and quality… it was not a difficult decision for me.”
But it’s not just the mechanical innovation that calls to Farah’s off-track sense of style – rarely seen by his legions of sporting fans.
“I like things that are different, and so I guess my watch style would be unique. I spend so much time dressed in sportwear and so when I do get the opportunity to ‘dress up’ I like a watch to really set off what I am wearing,” he says. “My favourite at the moment is the Arnold & Son Double Tourbillon with its double time zone.”
Born in Somalia, Farah arrived in London from Mogadishu when he was just eight years old. He credits his school PE teacher for spotting his potential and encouraging him to train in track and field. His teacher’s faith was soon proven correct: Farah won his first European Junior 5,000m title in 2001.
2010 was a breakthrough year for Farah as he won double gold titles at the 2010 European T&F Championships in Barcelona (5,000m and 10,000m) and followed this with his first global gold winning the 5000m at the World T&F Championships in Osaka in 2011.
Then came the London 2012 Olympic Games. Farah’s first race fell on the evening of 4 August – otherwise known as Super Saturday – capping off an extraordinary day for British sport, when Team GB won six Olympic gold medals. Farah’s victory marked Britain’s first ever gold medal for the 10,000m. One week later, Farah doubled his victory with a 5,000m gold.
From that moment, Farah’s tongue-in-cheek 'Mobot’ victory pose – created by commentator Claire Balding on James Corden’s panel show A League of Their Own – was a worldwide sensation. But it was only the beginning.
After repeating his long-distance double gold success at the 2013 European World T&F Championships, 2014 European T&F Championships, 2015 World T&F Championships and 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Farah was honoured with a knighthood for services to Athletics In the 2017 New Year Honours.
“Success for me, is achieving your goals,” he says simply. “In Track and Field, goals are quite easy to set because very often they will be to win a certain medal or run a specific time.
“The results will clearly show whether you did or didn’t hit your goal and so you have to work hard day in day out to get there. There is no hiding place.”
At the end of 2017, Farah announced his decision to quit the track and focus his efforts on the marathon. This resulted in victory at the 2018 Chicago Marathon and (at the time) a new European Record of 2:05:11. However, the lure of the Tokyo Olympics and the opportunity to make history with a third consecutive gold saw Farah return to the track in 2020.
“Training has been going well,” says Farah, who hopes to qualify for his Olympic place in June. “The postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Games from last year allowed me to take a step back, and use the extra time that I had to build a better foundation.”
Farah has been training under the guidance of coach Gary Lough, both at home in southwest London (where he lives with his wife Tania and their four children) and at training camps in Ethiopia and the US.
As for whether Farah is confident of becoming Britain’s first triple-double gold winner, he is characteristically humble: “I’m really happy with where I am at the moment and am looking forward to getting back racing on the track.”