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Saturday, 4 August 2012
Role Model for Somalian Boys
When Mo Farah stepped onto the track in the Olympic Stadium last night the proudest member of the 80,000-strong was his former PE teacher Alan Watkinson.
Mr Watkinson took Farah under his wing when he arrived in London from Somalia aged eight and helped propel him on a journey that would see him become one of Team GB’s most loved stars. Farah went on to become ranked number one in the world over 10,000m and fourth at 5,000m When Somalia sank into civil war, the runner was brought to live in Hounslow with his mother and three brothers by his British-born father, who was living in the UK.
When he started junior school he was equipped with only three English phrases: “excuse me”, “where is the toilet?” and, unhelpfully, “c’mon then”.
Mr Watkinson met him three years later when he was struggling academically at Feltham Community College and suffering from the language barrier - Farah has since become an award-winning athletics writer.
He noted that Farah had a passion for football but it was his speed on the pitch where he shone.
Mr Watkinson said: “If he was going to have an chance to progress, someone was going to have to take him under their wing - there were so many distractions that could get in the way.”
He entered Farah for a cross country course and finish second.
A few weeks later he finished fourth in a county championship, despite not having spikes.
Soon afterwards Mr Watkinson told him he could run for Great Britain.
He won seven school cross country titles and Mr Watkinson signed him up with an athletics club.
By the time he was a gangly 14-year-old, Farah won the English schools cross country championship.
Mr Watkinson drove Farah to athletics meetings, using the trips around the M25 as impromptu English lessons.
The father-of-one said today: “Mo’s a gregarious, lovable guy, he’s modest and what you see is what you get.
The pair are close friends and Mr Watkinson was best man at Farah’s wedding when he married his long-term girlfriend, Tania.
Guests also included Steve Cram and Paul Radcliffe, a long-time supporter of Farah who paid for driving lessons so he could compete.
The long distance runner has become a role model for young Somalis.
Farah’s aim after 2012 is to switch to marathon running.
Mr Watkinson, who works at School Sport Partnerships in Hounslow, said: “Marathons would be a fresh challenge for him - he started off as a child running the mini-London Marathon, which he won three or four times.
After the Great Britain preparation camp in Portugal, Farah went to France for altitude training.