Ben Geman writes: On Saturday night, the British distance runner Mo Farah will try and become the first athlete to sweep the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races at consecutive Olympics since Finland’s Lasse Viren won both in 1972 and 1976. Farah has already found a heart-stopping way to pay homage to the Finn, albeit accidentally. Viren famously fell mid-race during the 10,000-meter in 1972 but managed to get up and still win. Forty-four years later, in the middle of last Saturday’s 10,000 in Rio, Farah got tangled up with the American runner Galen Rupp, his friend and sometime training partner, and went crashing onto the track. It briefly looked as though Farah’s race was over. But he sprang up, rejoined the pack, and won in the same way he’s dominated the biggest international races for a half-decade: by separating himself from runners still in the mix and entering the final lap with a blistering closing kick.
Farah is tangled up with forces off the track too. He’s an immigrant who came to England from Somalia in order to escape conflict there at the age of eight. Time and again in recent years, the 33-year-old Farah, a devout Muslim, has prayed on the track and draped himself in the British flag after crossing the line for wins on the biggest stage, including at London’s 2012 games and then biennial World Championships in Russia and China in 2013 and 2015.
Still, Farah has faced claims that he’s not truly a British athlete throughout his career. In an ugly incident last year after Farah set the European record in the half-marathon, the man he took it from, Spain’s Fabian Roncero, dismissed the feat, reportedly claiming that an athlete “born in Somalia is Somali forever.” And this year’s Olympics are unfolding at a very different and even more fraught political moment than Farah’s earlier wins, arriving just weeks after anti-immigrant sentiment helped elicit Britain’s exit from the European Union. Across the Atlantic, Donald Trump has made condemning immigrants a pillar of his campaign to capture the GOP nomination and the White House. [Continue reading…]