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The athlete: Mo Farah interview

The Somali-born British track and field star Mohamed Farah became a 2012 Olympics hero after winning two golds and delighting viewers with his trademark ‘Mobot’ pose. There’s nothing stopping him now as he travels the world to train and compete

By Chris Beech
Published 16 May 2019, 09:45 BST, Updated 22 Jul 2021, 13:31 BST
Mo Farah
Mo Farah

The best place I’ve travelled to is Barbados. It has a special vibe for me and my family. There’s just something about the air, the sea, the atmosphere — it’s paradise on earth and I instantly relax when I step off the plane. I love to just sit on the beach and relax. It’s not complicated. They say you sample new cultures when you’re abroad, and certainly in Barbados I sampled the idea of relaxation. It’s in the blood of Barbadians. But there’s a spirit there, a generosity.

Like most people, it takes me a while to relax. If I’m in Barbados, my family and I head off on a day trip inland, visiting villages or sampling the town atmosphere. It’s when you return to the coast and realise you still have no work obligations that you really feel you’re on holiday.

With my running, I’m lucky that I’ve travelled to quite a few places around the world. I think Australia is probably the standout travel experience for me. It’s a phenomenal place, unlike anywhere else on the planet. There’s a heritage there that I really admire. Australians unify like few other nations — they’re so proud of who they are.

I was stuck in the chaos resulting from the volcanic ash cloud in Iceland in 2010. We were thousands of miles away in Nairobi — that was a strange experience. Tanya and I were on honeymoon and no one was sure when we’d get back home. I wasn’t particularly worried but it was one of the few times in my life when I thought I could be genuinely stuck somewhere, with no easy route home. Seeing the entire airspace of the Northern Hemisphere shut down was bizarre. As travellers, we’re sometimes led to believe we’re immune to the natural environment. I think that reminded us we’re not.

I train almost every day. But I need to rest sometimes, I’m not a robot — despite what some people might think. Training is addictive, though — whether at home or away. I find it difficult to get out of that mindset, and travelling means I can test my body in different climates too.

I’ve always been quite outdoorsy. I guess, from initially growing up in Somalia, then moving to London, I was never one to sit indoors and watch TV. That’s a really alien concept for me. In Somalia, you’re always out entertaining and enjoying yourself, so I took that on when I moved to London. That was probably why I ran so much — I was used to being outside.

Aside from long-distance running, I’m really a crazy footballer — that would be my one true love and passion. I’ve considered abseiling, paragliding and things like that but my body really is my profession, so it’s too risky when abroad to be doing anything that might put me at risk of injury.

I love all food, I just don’t get the chance to eat large amounts of it. I’d love to visit Japan in order to really sample authentic Japanese food. I’m quite adventurous with what I eat when abroad — I think you have to be, otherwise what’s the point?

I’ve just returned to Portland to kick off my winter training. The climate out here in Oregon is testing — not hot, as many people might imagine. But the days are long and the terrain makes it the perfect environment.


Mo Farah arrived in London aged eight from Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. And it wasn’t long until he was recognised for his running ability by his PE teacher.

Over the years, he’s won numerous awards, including 2012 European Athlete of the Year.

Mo struck gold twice at the London 2012 Olympics — winning both the 5,000m and 10,000m.

The 29-year-old, splits his time between west London and Portland, Oregon, and lives with his wife Tania and three children.

He is coached by Alberto Salazar and runs for the Nike Oregon Project. 

Published in Jan/Feb 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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