A perennial bugbear of mine when it comes to British athletics meetings (well, apart from the Aviva hot-seat competition) is a persistent attitude of pandering to our star athletes by fielding watered-down line-ups to face them. Thankfully this is no longer as prevalent at the Diamond League meetings in London and Birmingham (probably because they can’t be as picky when drafting the entry-lists) but alas, on Saturday, we’ll see Mo Farah at the Birmingham Indoor Grand Prix in a spectacle which will probably be more akin to an exhibition than a race. He goes over 3000m and the field is largely comprised of domestic athletes, no doubt with the intention of safeguarding Farah to maximise the chances of a home victory.
I do understand the rationale of the meet organisers as I was at the National Indoor Arena last year and in truth, Farah’s defeat to Eliud Kipchoge was an anti-climactic curtain-closer, particularly after a succession of domestic triumphs throughout the afternoon including Jessica Ennis’ win in the 60m hurdles. While the sense of disappointment was palpable though, the race clearly demonstrated to the hardcore supporters Farah was in superb shape and able to challenge for gold medals at the Olympic Games. Running at a distance below his specialist event, Farah’s time of 8:08.07 had only been bettered Haile Gebrselassie, Kenenisa Bekele, Hicham El Guerrouj and other all-time greats and I’m sure Farah gained more from that race than he will up against a second-rate field on Saturday.
There does seem to be a clash of interests between the more fair-weather fans and the avid followers which is represented by the meagre field assembled for the last event of the afternoon on Saturday but the organisers could have come to some sort of middle ground and arranged a more competitive race. I’m aware Farah hasn’t raced since September and won’t be in tiptop shape but he can surely handle pretty much any sort of line-up you throw at him. He is the double Olympic champion after all.