London: As the families and friends of Reeva Steenkamp and Oscar Pistorius continued to deal with the trauma of a tragedy in South Africa, the sense of bewilderment spread to Birmingham, where some of the world’s best athletes gathered for the British Grand Prix. The shock was palpable.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the two-time Olympic 100m champion, found out that Oscar Pistorius was facing a murder charge only when someone checked her passport after flying in from Jamaica. Mo Farah, the double Olympic distance king newly arrived from Kenya, also struggled to comprehend the news.
“I don’t know him personally, but for what he’s achieved as an athlete, you’ve got to admire that,” Farah said. “It’s a very sad situation. You turn on the television and it’s there. It’s all over the world.”
Those who know Pistorius best are keeping their counsel as the global spotlight threatens to turn a personal tragedy into a public soap opera. Martyn Rooney, the British athlete who shared a meal with Pistorius in South Africa last Saturday night before flying back to Britain, said: “My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those involved.”
It is a terrible and jarring backdrop to the first big meeting of the athletics calendar, where Farah is the star turn. He runs a 3,000m race against a modest field on Saturday and he was not about to join the bulging ranks of amateur psychologists deconstructing Pistorius.
Instead, he simply explained how he has more motivation than ever after his incredible peak. “I have a title, but nothing has changed,” he said. “As long as you enjoy it and have the right people in your life, it’s good.”
Having spent six weeks training in Kenya, Farah is aware that he is the man the world must beat. “There was a guy at the airport when I went out there and he said, ‘Oh Mo, you beat us, we shouldn’t let you in.’ I have to be even more motivated now because when you’re at the top, there are more people who want to knock you down.”
Farah lost in Birmingham this time last year and went on to finish outside the medals in the World Indoor Championships. He said that he never doubted himself and “forgot about it for sure” in the summer. This will be his only indoor meeting this year, with the New Orleans Half Marathon next on his agenda, a hint at where his ultimate future lies.
No one in Saturday’s field should get close to him, but, given his late return to training, the time is unlikely to be stellar. Nevertheless, it will be intriguing to see the post-Olympic Farah start his build-up to the World Championships. “I want to defend my 5,000 metres title and try to win the 10,000 this time,” he said, admitting that his defeat in the longer race in South Korea in 2011 still eats away at him.
With Farah now a big-time sportsman, his manager, Ricky Simms, says that the plan is to sign up a few core sponsors, as he has done with his other big client, Usain Bolt. A new deal is imminent to go with the £500,000-a-year contract signed with Virgin Media in the afterglow of London 2012.
Farah is determined to maintain his high standards while reaping the rewards. “You see that point where you just want to train and not think about any of that stuff,” he said.