The fall and rise of Farah and Viren
Matt long explores the common athletic factors of Mo Farah and Lasse Viren.
Mo Farah and Lasse Viren are of course proud owners of the "double-double". Lasse achieving his 5000m and 10,000m successes back in Munich (1972) and Montreal (1976) and Mo unforgettably triumphing over the same distances in London (2012) and Rio i(2016). As world-beating athletes both shared resting heart rates of a little over 30 beats per minute; both would own mightily impressive V02max figures, and both would have regularly run well over 100 miles per week.
So what else do their share in common? The more discerning amongst you will realise that both men fell on their way to one of their respective 10,000m triumphs. Farah took a tumble mid-race in Brazil after 10m56s of running and Viren crashed to the track in Germany after 12m28s of running. Both would recover similarly with Mo kicking home in typical style win gold and Lasse doing likewise while remarkably setting a new world record.
For every Viren or Farah, there is a Mohamed Gammoudi who rose with Viren in Munich only to drop out a lap or so later or perhaps most infamously, a stricken Mary Decker-Slaney, lying prostrate and inconsolable on the infield of the Los Angeles Coliseum track after clashing with Zola Budd in 1984. This being said, why some get up, and others do not or cannot is in the remit of the coach offered by the sports psychologist.
From a physiological point of view, let us consider not why but how Viren and Farah got up. What is similarly remarkable about the falls of both Viren and Farah is that it took both no more than between 2 and 3 seconds to get up and back into running again. In Munich, Viren lost approximately 20 metres before rising and catching the field in less than 150 metres. In contrast, in Rio, Mo rolled onto his right-hand side and used the counter momentum to roll back to his left-hand side and pushed off the track with his right hand while his left foot simultaneously pushed off the ground, as he remarkably avoided being trampled.
In assessing how both managed to do this, the answer surely lies in looking at the work they put into their fundamental and foundational athletic movement patterns. Before being coached by Gary Lough, Farah was of course guided by Alberto Salazar who once remarked that “He was the weakest athlete I’d ever trained…he was a 90lb weakling". The number one thing that has helped Mo is not the 110 miles a week he puts in on the road, but the seven hours a fortnight he does in the gym”. Since joining the Oregon Project, Farah has incorporated an array of strength and conditioning work into his programme including Olympic lifting, Gym ball windscreen wipers, and crunches, Russian twists with a medicine ball, and work with the kettlebell - to name but a few.
While Viren, coached by Rolf Haikkola, did not use weights, it would be a mistake to believe that his fundamental and foundational athletic development was underdeveloped. It is significant that while working as a police officer, the man from Myrskylä did a considerable proportion of his running on forest trails. This would have facilitated the development of lower leg strength with stabilising muscles being challenged over hard over uneven, unstable, and often slippery surfaces. His ascent up the hills would have challenged his gluteal muscles.
With his love of cross country skiing, Viren’s agility, balance, and coordination would have been developed through the use of abdominal core muscles. In pushing and pulling the ski poles, his pectorals, rhomboids in the back, and rear deltoids in the back of the shoulders would have been worked along with both biceps and triceps in the arms.
Leg strength through both flexions of the hamstrings and use of the quadriceps would have been enhanced with both abductors and adductors stabilising the knee and facilitating leg movement plus the gastrocnemius being utilised to support the actions of the lower limb. In learning to become a competent cross-country skier, Viren would have fallen many a time. Still, critically he would have been developing the physiological attributes to rising again – and rise quickly as he did in that Munich Olympic 10,000m final.
The Turkish novelist and playwright Mehmet Murat wisely remarked that "Those who mastered in the art of falling have no fear of rising!" A closer look at the attention paid by both Lasse Viren and Mo Farah to their fundamental and foundational athletic development is the key to understanding their ability to improvise and succeed in the heat of Olympic battle.Questions for self-reflection
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About the Authors
Matt Long is an England Athletics Coach Education Tutor and is leading the national roll-out of Youth Endurance Workshops.