The race that hurt Mo Farah & rekindled Hayley Yelling

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Mo Farah preparing to run the London Marathon. Photo: PictureCapital via Flickr

Before the all the medals, the madness and the ‘mo-bots’, multiple Olympic champion Sir Mo Farah sometimes went through a learning curve in cross country terms.

On this day nine years ago, when he crossed the line after a challenging European Cross Country Championships, there was no mo-Bot, winning smile, or even a triumphant raise of the arms.

Instead, Farah crossed the line in second, before staring blankly into the distance and dropping to the floor as if he had just been sucker punched by his idol Muhammad Ali.

The winner Alemayehu Bezabeh of Spain simply had too much, pulling away from Farah with half a mile left to take a very convincing victory.

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As the Spaniard celebrated, the Brit was taken off in a stretcher, after what had mainly been a positive event for his national team.

While it would have taken a lot to top some of the achievements from the previous year, each team still managed to walk away with medals, as the under 23 women and under 20 men took gold, while the rest took silver.

One athlete managed to grab an individual title, with former winner Hayley Yelling making it two European golds with a controlled victory in the senior women’s race.

What made it truly special was the fact that the 35-year-old had only come out of retirement from the sport one month prior to the event, making it one of those vintage ‘still got it’ veteran moments.

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It was a huge moment for an athlete who, ironically, had quit the sport due to her performance at the same event the previous year.

Despite still being a regular cross country international, back then the full-time mathematics teacher lost some of the belief in herself, with her 19th placed finish at the 2008 Europeans proving a setback too far.

“I don’t want to be just making teams.” She said following her retirement. “I want to be going to championships and doing well.”

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But in an ironic twist of fate, the expert in numbers would soon find out first hand that age is just a number, as she controlled the race against her much younger opponents to once again stand tall as the continent’s number one.

It was a fitting second-wind for a career that had seen its fair share of disappointments. While Yelling had run at almost every competition there is to run at, it was the biggest one of all that had always evaded her.

2004 saw her miss out on the Olympics by an agonising 0.14 seconds in the 10,000m, which proved the closest she would ever get to the world’s biggest sporting event after narrow misses in 2000 and 2008 before her first retirement.

However, her return to athletics saw her grace the international stage regularly, following up a European gold with appearances at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country, the World Cross Country Championships and once again the Europeans.

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It was once again the European stage in 2010 that proved to be her final big event before retiring.

But this time it was for real. Despite finishing down in 28th, the former gold medallist was now satisfied. The chapter had now closed and the spikes were ready to be hung up for good following their last big hurrah of 2010.

This event therefore signified both the start and the end of two different but extraordinary careers in the sport.

While Farah had won the European Indoors that year, he was very much still a work in progress in 2009, with huge things soon to come for the now four-time Olympic champion.

Bezabeh, who beat him, was later banned from 2011 until 2013 after being caught with a bag of blood that he was intending to use for a transfusion to improve his performance.

Meanwhile, Yelling – who would soon be known as Higham after her marriage to Jamie Higham – made sure to close out her career in the best possible way.

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First published on: 13 December, 2018 2:48 pm

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