Behind the smashed records and gold medals, the “Mobot” and the knighthood, Sir Mo Farah carried a deep sadness – a twin brother left behind in their homeland. As the brothers reunite in a new documentary, the Somali- British athlete reflects on heartbreak and success.
Sir Mo Farah has a habit of captivating people. Historically, it has been thanks to his scintillating performances on the track, but right now, it is down to the vivid pink and purple Nike vest that floats off his slim runner’s frame. Farah is a charming man, whose unfailing positivity has made him a sporting and cultural icon. He has a reputation as one of distance running’s fiercest competitors, but also one of its friendliest. Many a photo has captured Farah grimacing as he expounds every iota of energy in pursuit of victory; many a photo has also captured him grinning seconds later, soaking up another triumph.
At his London home is one such picture, depicting what is perhaps his most celebrated moment. A Union Jack is spread proudly across his shoulders as he basks in double gold at his home Olympics in 2012. Four years later he would defend his 5 000m and 10 000m titles in Rio de Janeiro – one of the finest achievements seen in Olympic athletics. Farah’s career has been glorious, driven by an ability to dig deep and grind out a final-lap attack when the odds seem stacked against him. It is emblematic of his life, which has been punctuated by personal struggles and heartbreak. His journey is an unlikely one that started in Somalia and took him as a refugee to Djibouti, then south London, and eventually athletics superstardom.
Last year, Farah made a poignant return to Djibouti, winning the country’s first ever international half marathon and later spending a month there, reconnecting with his long-lost twin brother, Hassan, and other relatives, and learning more about daily life in the place he once called home. That experience is chronicled in a documentary to be released later this year. Farah was a cheeky, happy-go-lucky child – remarkable, given that in moving to London from Djibouti, he was separated from his twin. Farah, his mother, and his two younger brothers went to join his father, who was working in the UK, but Hassan fell ill and stayed behind with relatives. When Farah’s father returned to Djibouti to retrieve him, his son had disappeared – the family he was living with had moved and couldn’t be traced. After two weeks of searching, Farah’s dad was forced to return to London without his son. “It was an incredibly difficult time,” Farah recalls. “He was a part of me growing up – we played football together, shared jokes together, ate from the same plate together.” Hassan, too, felt as though a part of him had been ripped away. “It was lonely. Twins are supposed to grow together into adulthood but we never had that opportunity,” he explains from his home in Djibouti. “We had this incredible bond, and that disappeared in one night. It took me a long time to get over that.”
In 2003, 12 years after they had last seen each other, Farah and his brother were finally reunited. “There were times when I thought I was never going to see him again,” Farah remembers. “That moment I got off the plane in Djibouti and saw him, I will never forget. We had lived, and still live, two different lives. But we still have that same bond and connection.” Hassan couldn’t sleep the night before their reconciliation. “When I went to the airport, I ran to Mo and we both cried uncontrollably. For the first time in my adult life, I felt at peace. This void that I carried with me for so long was finally filled. I never wanted to let him go.”
The opportunities afforded to the Farah twins in the UK and Djibouti were wildly divergent. Sir Farah, who now has twin daughters of his own, is philosophical when asked whether he feels guilty about the chances he was given to shine in the UK. “Of course, I think back and imagine what it would have been like if we were together here; what we could have achieved. Could we be finishing first and second in races? That always crosses my mind, but I know Hassan is happy with his life. He has a beautiful family around him. It has been difficult, but we still have the same loves, beliefs, and same attitude. I call him when I have problems and he calls me when he has problems. We are brothers.” Hassan still feels excited every time Mo returns to Djibouti. “When he comes and visits us, he blends in easily. He doesn’t act like a superstar; he is humble. We both need to catch up on lost times and I know he wants to make new memories with us. You can win a gold medal, but you cannot win a family.”
Farah’s inspirational athletics career is now into its fall season and after a disappointing 2021, in which he failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, the 39-year-old admits some difficult soul searching was required about his future in the sport. “My body wouldn’t allow me to do it. It was difficult to watch Tokyo – you’re excited for your teammates, but you feel you should have been there with them. I’ve always said I’d love to finish my career on a high and that’s still what I want to try to do. I must listen to my body and keep my focus.” Does Farah have one more magic moment left? “I know I’m still hungry and I want more,” he states. “I’ll never line up unless I’m ready and capable of mixing with the best. I’m feeling good at the moment, and I want to give it one more go. I’m ready for one last attack.”
Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Vogue Man Arabia