LONDON -- It was 7:25 on Saturday night, a cool and breezy English summer evening, with the final session of track and field for the 2012 Olympics just getting underway. Not much was happening yet in the men's javelin or the women's high jump. The medal ceremony for the men's pole vault -- which had been contested on Friday night -- had concluded and the last strains of La Marseillaise, played in honor of winner Renaud Lavillenie, had just died out, when a sudden roar swelled through the crowd of 80,000. It was the sound of urgent expectation, and its source was the entrance, from a tunnel under the stands, of the 15 finalists in the men's 5,000 meters. That is to say, its source was Mo.
Exactly a week before, in this same stadium, Mo Farah, the 29-year-old Somali-born distance runner who had become one of the great hopes of the British Olympic team, had produced a searing finish to win the 10,000, the third of three British golds on the night, which had instantly been dubbed Super Saturday. The other two British winners from that evening, heptahlete Jessica Ennis and long jumper Greg Rutherford, were long done with their Games, basking in the golden glow of a task well-completed. But Farah's victory in the 10,000 had been just the first leg of a supremely ambitious double. Now, after seven days of waiting and anticipation, he would take to the track in an attempt to become just the sixth man in Olympic history to win the five and the 10 in the same Games and stamp himself as the finest distance runner of the era. For British fans, a second victory for Mo would be the ultimate icing on what had been a very sweet Olympic fortnight.
But, of course, the fans weren't the only ones in the stadium contemplating the prospect of a Farah victory. Every other finalist in the 5,000 knew what they faced. They'd seen Farah's transcendent last lap in the 10,000 and knew that, surely, unless they could break away from him before the final straight, their chances were not good. Six runners in the race, including three Ethiopians and two Kenyans, had lifetime bests faster than Farah's 12:53.11, and none of those six would be doubling back from the 10,000. Compared to Farah's, their legs would be fresh.
And yet when the gun sounded, none of them forced the pace. Kenya's Isiah Koech led through the first 1,000 meters in 2:55.40 -- a 14:36 pace. The second kilometer was even slower at 3:01.30, a pace barely faster than the women finalists ran -- in the 10,000. Farah strode easily in the middle of the pack, always close to the U.S.' Galen Rupp, who had chased Farah to the line in the 10,000 to take the silver medal. Farah and the 26-year-old Rupp train together under former American marathon great Alberto Salazar in Portland, Ore., and they had prepared themselves over the past year for just such a scenario.
"Championship races are always slow," Farah would say later. "Maybe these guys thought my legs were tired. But it suited me very well."
Perfectly, in fact. Though Ethiopia's Yenew Alamirew would go to the front at 3,000 meters and, along with his countrymen Dejen Gebremeskel and Kenyans Koech and Moses Kipsiro, force the running, covering the final mile in four minutes flat, they would hit the closing two laps with Farah ideally positioned among them.
"We've talked about just that situation all year with Mo," Salazar would say after the race. "He's got to leave something to the end. He starts that long drive out from the finish so that it's not just a 200-meter sprint while everybody's fresh. Every 100 meters has to be faster over the last 400."
Every 100 over that last 400 was certainly noisier.
"The crowd was inspiring," Farah would say. "It just got louder and louder and louder."
With that roar following him around the track and building to a deafening crescendo, Farah ran his final lap in under 53 seconds, capped with a magnificent, grimacing final 50 meters as he held off Gebremeskel to win by .32 seconds, as Thomas Longosiwa of Kenya took the bronze just ahead of the U.S.' 37-year-old marvel Bernard Lagat. Rupp, in the hunt till the final 200, wound up seventh. Farah's winning time of 13:41.66 was the slowest since Tunisia's Mohamed Gammoudi ran 14:05.00 in the thin air of Mexico City in 1968. But the time mattered not at all. All that counted was the win.
Once past the line, Farah dropped to his knees on the track and pointed to the sky, before flopping onto his back. For a second it seemed his double had finally done him in, but then, with a broad grin on his back, he performed a quick series of sit-ups -- playful tribute to the pervious night's pushups performed by Usain Bolt, that other multiple gold medalist. Bolt, himself, would not long after that, flash across the finish line of the 4x100 relay to set a world record while flashing the hands-to-the-head M-shaped "Mo-bot" sign that Farah had invented.
It was the perfect capper to a long-anticipated evening that, in the end, belonged to Mo.