MO Farah, Britain’s Olympic hope and European 5,000m and 10,000m champion, dropped off at Red House to visit a former adversary before jetting off to the U.S. to contest the New York Marathon.
The 28-year-old, along with wife Tania and daughter Rihanna, called on former Sunderland Harrier Malcolm Hassan, who was a great rival during their schoolboy days.
“I got a call from Mo saying that he was coming up for a visit for a few days,’’ said Hassan
“He has been here before, as we have kept in touch since competing against each other in the English Schools’ Championships.
“He stopped for a few days and trained along the coast from Seaburn to South Shields before leaving for the U.S.’’
Farah made one of the most impressive winning (60.23) debuts at the half marathon in the Big Apple in outkicking New York marathon champion Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia.
Hassan and Farah met regularly during their teenage years in national championships, but the Sunderland athlete never managed to beat his foe.
In 1996, at the age of 13, Farah entered the English Schools Cross Country and finished ninth. The following year he won the first of five English schools’ titles.
“He always got the better of me,’’ admitted Hassan, whose flourishing career was brought to a premature end by an accident at the age of just 21.
While Farah has gone on to become Britain’s best distance runner since the golden generation of Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram, Hassan, who won the AAA’s under-17 1,500m in 1999 and was one of the fastest 800m runners in the UK for his age (1.50.7) in 2000, now only gets out for the occasional jog to keep himself fit.
Among Hassan’s achievements during his short career were Three Northern titles and nine North East titles over 800m and 1,500m, plus English Schools’ international vests at both track and cross country.
Farah and Hassan cemented their friendship further at the Olympic squad training camp in Florida at the ages of 17.
But a year later their paths took a different turn. While Farah rapidly became a great force over the middle distances, Hassan departed on an American athletics scholarship for Utah Valley State University.
“I ran a 1.50 800m shortly after I arrived at Utah and I was ranked fourth in the country for an 18-year-old,’’ he added.
“Shortly after that I fell off a trampoline and dislocated my shoulder and that is when my problems started.
“I couldn’t run for a month and when I did get back to competition I was struggling. I was suffering from stiff backs and was told the alignment was out, although I still managed to run five miles in just over 25 minutes and 3.52 for 1,500m.’’
“The rest of my time at Utah was spent on the treatment table, so I decided to return home at the age of 21. But I was determined to try to get to the bottom of my problems as I was really missed the training and the competitions.’’
Hassan, whose grandfather arrived in this country from the Yemen in the 1930s, sought expert medical opinion when he arrived back in the UK.
He made a number of visits to Kelly Holmes’ physio, Alison Rose of Leeds, as he was now also suffering from foot, back and shoulder problems.
“Every time I went out for a run my body felt lopsided. It just didn’t feel right at all,’’ he said.
“Eventually, I decided to call it a day as there was no improvement.
“It is only recently that I have been told I have Sherman’s disease, which is curvature of the spine.
“A couple of weeks ago I had an operation on my shoulder as it was giving me a lot of pain. It kept coming out of its socket as the tendons were torn.’
Hassan, a journalist on local boxing magazine Punchline, does not look back on the past and think what might have been.
“Life has so many twists and turns and you have to take whatever is thrown at you,” he said. “I have done the best I can. I enjoyed my athletics and I have the memories. My dad has all mine and most of Mo’s races on video, so they are always there to view. When Mo was here we spent time watching them.’’
Farah was born in Somalia. He arrived in Britain aged eight, speaking barely a word of English.
His athletic talent was identified by PE teacher Alan Watkinson, who was best man at Farah’s wedding last year.
Also, there was Hassan and his father, also Malcolm, who rubbed shoulders with other guests Paula Radcliffe and Steve Cram, who were among a small party of only 36. Clearly, Farah does not forget his friends.
H Sunderland Strollers were among the prizes in the rearranged Thirsk 10-mile Road Race.
The women won the team competition with Vicki Booth (69.43), Rachel Ball (71.56) and Alyson West (72.05). Lyne Valentine was first over-55 in 74.29.