Somali-born Mo Farah celebrates with the Union flag after winning his first Olympic gold medal in the 10,000 metres
We’ve never met. I can barely keep on the treadmill for more than 10 minutes. But our lives have overlapped uncannily.
Born in Mogadishu, Mo Farah, now 29, spent a portion of his childhood near Gabiley in Somaliland, a town not far from Hargeisa, where I was born and lived. Mo, so the stories go, would run errands for his family. But his talent had to be nurtured in Britain. Without this he may never have got the chance. This double life is I suspect one reason why it was so emotional for him as he stood on the podium as the winner of the gold medal for the 10,000 metres on an unforgettable Saturday evening in August, as the national anthem roared through the Olympic Stadium.
For me, watching on my telly, this first victory was a great moment of affirmation and acceptance. His second gold, in the 5000 metres one week later, was momentous, breathtaking. He had become one of the greatest British Olympians. And, for once, the attention was on us Somalis for the right reasons—the best of us on screens beaming to millions across the country. No longer would we be only the invisible moving shadows crowded in urban pockets. And Mo’s greatest success lies in his full embrace of Britishness—something that is alas all too rare for young Somalis. Moreover, he is living proof that hard graft can bring success.
We were the generation that arrived here aged 8, 10, 12. Many of us came with memories of war all too fresh in our minds. Our stories were forged in the disintegration of the Somali state amidst the carnage of civil war. Mo and I survived this. Like many other Somalis we were forced to flee our homes and become refugees in Ethiopia and Kenya. We were robbed of what we here call childhood. For us, being a child didn’t mean sandcastles, toys and board games. It was about gunfire, hunger and fear.
We had little in the way of education, and were plunged into unfamiliar British life without manuals or guidebooks. We were thrown into existing zones of poverty in the inner cities, confused, alienated and unable to make sense of our new homes.