Mo Farah’s aura of invincibility after six years of unrelenting success was finally cracked in his very last major track race on Saturday as he lost his world 5,000 meters title to Ethiopia’s Muktar Edris.
Seeking a fitting end to his matchless long-distance racing career before moving to marathon running, the 34-year-old Briton’s bid for a fifth straight global 10,000/5,000m double was scuppered as he had to settle for the silver.
Yet even in defeat, Farah demonstrated his champion’s spirit as he fought back in the dying meters when it looked as if he would be shut out of the medals completely.
In a thrilling finale featuring four athletes careering towards the line, Farah snatched back second place behind Edris, who clocked 13 minutes 32.79 seconds after a searing final lap of 52.6 seconds.
“I gave it all but I had nothing left at the end,” a crestfallen and emotional Farah said.
“It’s been a long journey but it’s been incredible. It doesn’t quite sink in until you compete here and cross the line – I had a couple of minutes to myself – that this is it.
“To be honest with you it takes so much out of me. It’s not an excuse, but it took a lot more out of me than I realized.”
It was a glorious win for 23-year-old Ethiopian Edris, the fastest man in the world this year, who had lost all his five previous meetings with Farah.
Yet just like Usain Bolt in the 100 meters the previous weekend, it did look a race too far for the weary Briton.
To rub in his victory after years of the Ethiopians being tormented by Farah’s brilliance, Edris even gave an impression of his rival’s famed “Mobot” celebration as he crossed the line.
“I was highly prepared for this race and I knew I was going to beat Mo Farah,” Edris said.
“After the 10km he was maybe tired so he did not have enough for the last kick. I was stronger.
“I didn’t have much support but we did it. I did the Mobot out of respect as well for him.”
Behind Edris, Farah dug deep to battle back from fourth to second when space opened up on the inside over the last few meters to take silver in 13:33.22.
Kenyan-born American Paul Chelimo claimed bronze in 13:33.30 while Farah’s late burst also consigned another Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha to fourth place in 13:33.51.
It was a poignant sight after so many Farah celebrations down the years to see him lying on his back, exhausted and forlorn with his arm draped across his face, but his rivals were not about to let the moment pass without celebrating him.
Edris hauled Farah to his feet as his other rivals all wanted to give him a hug of consolation.
It was the great man’s first defeat in a major championship race since the 2011 world 10,000 meters final when he also won silver – and, once again, it took dazzling speed to beat him over the last lap.
For once, Farah had been found wanting tactically in the denouement, failing to cover Kejelcha and Edris as they opened up a three-meter lead down the back straight.
Stretching out desperately to hold on but maybe feeling the exertions of his 10,000 meters title win eight days earlier when he was spiked and suffered a knee injury, Farah was also overtaken by Chelimo.
Down the home straight all looked lost for Farah as he appeared blocked in until Kejelcha drifted out from the inside lane trying to block Chelimo, which allowed the Briton the chance to battle through on the inside.
“Tactically, I was trying to cover every move,” said Farah, after being consoled by his wife and four children at trackside.
“They had the game plan: one of them was going to sacrifice themselves. That’s what they did tonight, and the better man won on the day.
“My legs had it on the home straight. I got boxed in early on – it doesn’t normally happen – and couldn’t get out.”