'He was desperate to be a footballer': Mo Farah's PE teacher discusses his most famous pupil

Alan Watkinson, a PE teacher at Isleworth and Syon School in West London, taught Mo Farah, 33, the 10,000m gold medallist at Rio and a double gold medallist at London 2012. He spoke to TES

Adi Bloom

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“With Mo, from an early age, I realised that I needed to find him a coach and an athletics club. It was a management role, really. He’s got an excellent agent now, but you don’t get 11-year-olds with agents.

“It was important to get him to venues on time – he was sometimes a little bit tardy. It was important to ensure that he knew what was going on, and how important it was to train and prepare.

“He was absolutely desperate to be a footballer, and was a little bit reluctant to get involved with athletics to start with. There were a few elements of bribery along the way: allowing him to play football before he went training, and letting him take a football along to athletics events.

“Ruthlessly, very early on, I said, ‘Look, I know you love football, but I’ve seen you play, and…’ His aptitude in football was based on his athletic ability. Tactically, he wasn’t so astute.

“Mo [who was born in Somalia] struggled with language and he struggled to access the curriculum. He was a little bit of a fish out of water, certainly in Year 7. The odd student was prepared to have a bit of fun with the fact that his language was quite poor. They would teach him certain phrases to repeat in front of teachers. On one or two occasions, he was set up. And on one or two occasions, he was a little bit naughty.

“But he’s always been a hard worker. He’s always been one of the most self-effacing, modest, charming, funny people. What you see now is a developed version of what he was then.”

This is an edited article from the 19 August edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. You can also download the TES Reader app for Android and iOs. TES magazine is available from all good newsagents.

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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