Public feud with Gebrselassie may cost Mo Farah in the long run

LONDON • It has been described as the most "brutal" place for distance runners to train.

Britain's Paula Radcliffe, the women's marathon record-holder, has admitted it would make her "physically sick".

Mo Farah's training regimen at the Yaya Africa Athletics Village in Sululta, Ethiopia, has been relentless and taxing, which may explain why his temper may have been frayed - specifically when he has clashed with others there.

The Briton has been accused of assaulting a man and his wife at the hotel's gym earlier this year and there has also been a separate allegation that he grabbed a gym employee by the neck on a previous visit.

While his representatives insist he was the victim of "threatening behaviour", with his coach Gary Lough telling the Evening Standard he was acting in self-defence, it has certainly led to a public feud between him and Haile Gebrselassie, who owns the hotel.

The Ethiopian is perhaps the only man who stands alongside the four-time Olympic gold medallist in terms of his long-distance running achievements, with 10,000m golds at the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Games.

A day at the high-altitude resort almost 10km outside the capital Addis Ababa, starts early - a run soon after sunrise when the temperature may still be in single figures.

Farah, who arrived in Sululta in mid-January for a three-month stay to prepare for tomorrow's London Marathon, said earlier this week: "There is no air, that's what makes it so hard."

The first week is about acclimatisation, building up to runs of 16km and then longer. The routes are varied, with tracks twisting through the neighbouring forest reserve.

After a meal and rest, the runners usually have another run in the late afternoon, by which time the temperature has climbed, but it is still cool for central Africa, rarely rising above 20 deg C. Three or four days a week, there will be a gym workout, and regular physio sessions.

"Every day is pretty much running on tired legs," Farah said. "Ethiopia is fun. I have built a nice group, I enjoy training. It's almost 10,000 feet (3,048m) above sea level, so doing most of your runs there every day, it's tough but, hopefully, it will make a difference."

Gebrselassie, who owns six hotels in the country, told The Times that he "still respects" Farah despite trading accusations over the past few days, calling it "sad".

Athletes from all over the world come to the village to train - it boasts its own purpose-built running track, a 325 sq m gym, steam room, sauna and an organic farm providing fresh produce for meals.

However, Farah's falling-out with Gebrselassie, who also claimed it all started after he turned away Jama Aden - a coach linked to a 2016 doping probe in Spain - from his hotel, may now have lasting repercussions.

If Farah, 36, had planned to use Sululta in the build-up to next year's Tokyo Games, he might have closed the door on his favoured training spot.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2019, with the headline 'Public feud with Gebrselassie may cost Farah in the long run'. Print Edition | Subscribe