The Real Mo Farah: a retrospective documentary
Sir Mo Farah’s story reaches far beyond Olympic gold medals and traverses years of mental struggle, resilience, and heart.
Myles Campbell-DrummondbyMyles Campbell-Drummond 19-07-2023 17:07
Mo Farah winning the 2017 marathon, with arms wide and a very happy face.
image by Erik van Leeuwen. GNU Free Documentation License

In his final London Marathon on 23 April 2023, Sir Mo Farah secured ninth place. With September’s Great North Run bringing the curtain down on a glittering athletics career, what brought Farah to this moment holds many unforeseen layers. Momentous as his ten gold medals (four Olympic and six World Championship golds) sound, these are only part of his story.

Inside the gold medal
The Real Mo Farah first aired for BBC One on 13 July 2022, with many life bridges that were broken for Farah rebuilt into new entities. The portrayal of Farah’s real story was told by Atomized Studios and Red Bull Studios, and directed and produced by Leo Burley and Hannah K Richards respectively.

Hussein Abdi Kahin was born in Somaliland and, at a young age, saw his father murdered. He ran in a state of shock, void of direction. He was then trafficked to the UK illegally and given the name of another child, Mohammed Farah.

His new mother ripped up the contact number of his blood relative provided to the young Abdi Kahin in front of his eyes, signifying a new existence. He knew nothing about the person whose life he had been given, just that he felt he had taken someone else’s place on Earth. A ‘reveal’ as monumental as this was kept away from the mainstream media’s eyes by Farah for years.

It was with good reason that this reveal avoided persistent media questioning, and the likely mass hysteria resulting from public and social media; he had lived in mental turmoil and prison-like living conditions where he had to care for younger children when his new mother abandoned them.

Citizenship under threat
Farah’s PE teacher Alan Watkinson was one of the first to learn of his true upbringing. He then played an integral role in Mo obtaining British Citizenship, needed to compete in Europe. Anxiety was ever-present with Farah as he had held his true upbringing inside for years, but Watkinson more than eased his burdens. The UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s new legislation regarding British Citizenship meant Farah was at risk of being sent back to Somaliland, but the Home Office decided against it: “it is assumed children are not complicit when their citizenship is gained by deception.”

What made Farah different from others was that he could run, in real-life and symbolically, and he gained enjoyment from long-distance running and used it to destress from his living situation

Life more than a year on
His mainstream fanbase only knew the incredible long-distance runner, not the incredible long-distance runner who spent the majority of his life hopelessly wondering about his birth family’s whereabouts. Revealing his personal and turbulent journey meant a lot to Farah, who had always craved normality.

According to his wife Tania, he saw the documentary as therapy. Atomized and Red Bull served up a reminder of the blurred lines of everyday life that we take for granted and provided a grounding send-off for an Olympic great. Farah is now a family man and has entered a chapter in life in which he cares for his three children.

When Farah learned that the ‘original’ Mo Farah was alive and living in Somaliland, two Mohammed Farahs experienced a heart-warming FaceTime conversation near the documentary’s end. Also rediscovered for Farah was the mother who took him in prior to the unburdening of his struggles to his PE teacher following years of lost contact. Her son was one of Farah’s school friends and also Somali, making the transition smoother.

Finally, upon realising that his birth mother was alive and also residing in Somaliland, Farah instantly booked a flight home to not just see his family but meet them for the first time. Finally he saw Somaliland in a new light – a place of love and heritage.

Although the documentary’s ending sees Farah still having questions, it provides building blocks for him to venture away from documentary crews and onto a more personal journey, and for his fanbase to truly learn the uncomfortable yet heart-warming upbringing of a world champion.