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Farah has a chill mien that suggests he'll keep the pressure at bay. "When I'm in London, I won't go near the stadium," he says. "It will be there on the night of the Olympics. You can't put all that pressure on yourself."
Says Dave Bedford, a former 10,000-meter world-record holder, director of the London Marathon and a card-carrying member of the fraternity of once-proud British distance runners, "How Mo handles the pressure, and maybe more important how he stays away from it, will be a massive factor in whether he succeeds or not."
Farah has handled pressure before, of a much different variety. He was born in 1983 in Mogadishu, where his British-born father had gone on vacation and met his mother. The family left Africa in '91 and settled in a Somali community in west London. Farah enrolled in Feltham Community College, a public high school, at age 11 and came under the tutelage of P.E. teacher Alan Watkinson. "Mo struggled academically, and he got into some scrapes, largely because of language issues," says Watkinson, 47. "But he received a great deal of support, and he was a very good, natural all-around athlete. Of course, he was dominant at distance running."
At 12, Farah finished ninth in the English Schools cross-country championship and won five cross-country and track titles in the next three years. In the middle of that stretch he spent time at an elite training camp in Florida. "That's when I learned the benefits of being an athlete," says Farah. "We trained, and we went on the rides at Disney World, we got ice cream in the canteen. I liked all of that." He would run successfully on the fumes of that enthusiasm until 2005, when his agent, Ricky Simms, moved Farah into a training enclave with a group of Kenyans in the London suburb of Teddington. There he was exposed to serious, full-time training.
Half a world away and three years behind, Rupp entered Central Catholic High in Portland as a promising soccer player. He had been selected for the Oregon Olympic Development Program and made the high school varsity in ninth grade. But it was a conditioning session designed by Salazar (the school's cross-country coach) that foreshadowed Rupp's future. He ran 10 sprints of 200 meters at between 30 and 31 seconds with little rest in between, a respectable showing for even a sub-two-minute 800-meter runner.
That was the end of soccer. Rupp graduated from Central Catholic in 2004 with two state cross-country titles and, after enrolling at Oregon, would win an NCAA cross-country crown in '08 and five titles on the track in '09. He also made the U.S. world championship teams in '07 and '09 (last year was his third worlds team) and the '08 Olympic team.
But through it all Rupp attracted controversy. He trained with Salazar in high school and college, availing himself of Nike's infrastructure (while paying for it) and prompting an NCAA inquiry into his eligibility in 2005. (He was cleared.) There were also grumblings in the running world that he was benefiting from Nike's money in other ways. In fact, Rupp says his parents and grandmother paid $95,000 to support his training (to preserve his college eligibility), and when he turned professional and signed with Nike in the summer of '09, he paid them back in full.
There were rough patches. "People were saying I was using steroids when I was 15," says Rupp. "They'd say I'll burn out in three years. It was hurtful at times. But no regrets. Things have gone pretty well."
Salazar will ask a little more of both men in the Olympic year. Farah's mileage will increase to 125 per week, with another 20 on a HydroWorx underwater treadmill, adding volume while minimizing injury risk. "I don't want to say that last year was enough," says Salazar. "Because there are so many great East African runners, and several of them are going to run 140 miles a week and do incredible workouts, and most of them will get injured, but the few that survive will line up in the Olympic final." Salazar and Farah won't tinker much with Mo's speed; at the worlds he closed the last 400 meters of the 10,000 in 53.4 seconds and the last lap of the 5,000 in 52.6—the kind of scorching finish he'll need in the Games.
Rupp's mileage will grow as well. Oddly, he is faster than Farah, around 10.9 seconds for a running-start 100 meters versus 11.3 for Farah. But Farah's endurance enables his late kick, and the expectation is that with continued training Rupp will eventually finish as fast. He set a U.S. two-mile record of 8:09.72 in Fayetteville, Ark., on Feb. 11 and will join Farah at the indoor worlds in Istanbul on March 9 to 11. The push to London will begin in April, a globetrotting odyssey funded by Nike that will probably conclude with six weeks in Park City before the long flight to the Games.