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ATHLETICS: I beat Mo... three times
AS THE field in the 10,000m Olympic final found out on Saturday, it takes something pretty special to beat Mo Farah.
To run him into second once would be impressive, to do so twice would be superb, three times... unthinkable.
But that is exactly what Swindon-born athlete Andy Sherman did.
Currently a web developer based in Indianapolis, the 30-year-old was raised in Chiseldon and joined Swindon Harriers aged 15, a matter of months before coming face to face with Farah for the first time.
The occasion was a big one, the 1997 UK Inter Counties Cross Country Championship at Wigmore Valley Park in Luton, and the Ridgeway School pupil believed he had a real crack at a top-10 finish in the under 15s category Also lining up was Farah, a 13-year-old Somali refugee who had arrived in the UK via Djibouti five years previously.
As the race developed, Sherman and Farah were part of the leading group of four and the former prevailed in 15:52, three seconds ahead of Thomson in second and five seconds clear of Farah.
“I didn’t really know Mo at that point, it was probably one of his first races, but he was amazing from the get-go,” said Sherman.
“I got the upper hand with about 800m to go and crossed the line as national champion. It was a shock, but I knew I had it within me and that’s why I pulled away and won.”
That wasn’t it, though. Two months later the pair clashed again at the Southern Cross Country Championships at Parliament Hill Fields in London.
Once more Farah was far from overawed by the man almost exactly 18 months his senior.
“Having seen the results of the Inter Counties, I knew I was going to have a race on my hands,” said Sherman.
“Myself and Mo attacked it and and reasonably soon after the start we pulled away from the rest of the group, and started trading blows on the muddy hills.
“We came to the final uphill section and I managed to pull away ever so slightly and then struck for home.
“At that point I knew I was pretty much done, so I held on and got to the line as fast as I could.”
Sherman’s last triumph over his rival came three years later, at the Reebok Cross Challenge in Cardiff in 2000.
“He inflicted a reasonably heavy kick with three-quarters of a mile to go, but as an athlete you race until the line and I hung on for dear life,” continued Sherman.
“So that was one more feather in my cap. I think he was suffering from a little bit of illness that day and ended up finishing third, but you have to toast your victories when you can.”
Later that year, Sherman was to run alongside Farah at the World Junior Cross Country Championships in Portugal, a team that included future London 2012 Olympians Chris Thompson and Nick McCormick, but the Swindon-born runner was well down on his rival.
Although Sherman continued to run at a high level while at Loughborough University and subsequently in the United States, injury was a regular concern and his senior career never took off in the manner he had hoped.
Meanwhile, Farah’s stock was rising and rising. The Brit eventually made his international breakthrough at the European Championships in 2010, winning double gold in the 5,000m and 10,000m, and never looked back.
Following gold and silver at the 2011 World Championships and another top spot at the Europeans this year, Farah's career-defining moment finally arrived on Saturday, when he out-kicked a world-class field to claim a stunning gold medal on home soil.
“I was pretty much certain he’d win it,” said Sherman.
“Mo went in as favourite and sometimes that makes it harder to win, but it was going to take a lot to beat him and knowing what the crowd was like in the stadium, it’s almost like there’s an extra man in the boat.”
On Saturday night, Farah will go in search of a second Olympic gold in the 5,000m, spurred on by the same hysterical noise that was the backdrop to his maiden Games triumph.
And Sherman believes another gold, or silver or bronze at the very least, will be round his old rival's neck come the medal ceremony.
“I think it’s highly likely he will win,” said Sherman. “I saw him in heats and he looked comfortable and pretty easy-going.
“I don’t want to say he’s definitely going to get it, but I’m confident he will. If he doesn't get it, he will medal.
“Seeing Mo now, our athletic careers grew in parallel for a while and when I see him race it brings back a lot of fond memories of my junior career.
“He’s a great guy. It’s no wonder Britain’s fallen in love with him, he's just a great athlete and a fun person to be around.
“It’s been fun watching him the last couple of years, he's made a lot of sacrifices and is certainly getting the benefits.
“Even if he doesn’t win the 5,000m, he’s still one of the best distance runners that Britain has ever had.”