TORINO (07-Mar) -- For Britain's Mo Farah, two years ago is just a faded memory, one which has nearly vanished.
At the last European Indoor Championships in Birmingham in 2007, Farah was tripped in the preliminary round of the 3000m, fell to the track, and momentarily ran in the wrong direction after regaining his feet. Although he eventually caught up to the field and made it into the final, he was exhausted. He would finish fifth in a slow, strategic race.
Now, completely rejuvenated and coming off of a base training period in Kenya where he did speed workouts with world 1500m bronze medalist Shedrack Korir, and endurance training with Olympic 10,000m bronze medalist Micah Kogo, Farah made today's 3000m final a more than honest race. He took charge of the pace after only four laps, immediately putting his key rival, the tall Frenchman Bob Tahri, under pressure. His 1000m split of 2:33.6 announced that he really meant business.
"I knew Bob Tahri was the strongest guy out there," Farah told reporters after the race. "I had to give him a hard race."
Farah continued to lead with Tahri and Turk Selim Bayrak following closely. Tahri has a strong kick, so the Briton knew he had to wear him down. He slowly tightened the screws with each lap leading up to his final circuit: 30.7 seconds, 30.6, then 30.4 through 2800. It was too much for Tahri.
"Mo Farah was too strong," said Tahri. "Nevertheless, I told myself not to let him go right from the start but to stick to him." He added: "It was too difficult."
With victory in hand, Farah slowed in the final lap, but still easily surpassed Spaniard Alberto Garcia's championships record by almost four seconds, clocking 7:40.17 and giving Britain their first medal of these championships. Farah didn't see the race so much as redemption, but rather a sign of better times ahead.
"Yes, I think there's a lot more to come," Farah said confidently. "You've got to be consistent, that's the main thing. I'm still learning a lot and I think I can go to the top."
Tahri got the silver in 7:42.14, the same medal he achieved in Birmingham, and Spaniard Jesus España passed Bayrak to take the bronze, his third in European Indoor Championships competitions.
ALMINOVA COMPLETES FIRST HALF OF DOUBLE
Russian Anna Alminova had a fruitful day, qualifying for the 3000m final in the morning, then winning the 1500m gold medal in the afternoon. She easily pulled away from her last serious rival, Spain's Natalia Rodríguez, in the final lap of the race to win in 4:07.76, nearly a full second ahead of Rodríguez. Well behind, Slovenian Sonja Roman won the battle for the bronze against Irishwoman Roisin McGettigan, 4:11.42 to 4:11.58.
"I decided to change my tactics because I had to run yesterday, and today in the morning," said Alminova, who was so excited she found it hard to speak. When asked how it would fee to feel the medal draped around her neck she said: "It will feel great. I waited this moment [sic] for a long time."
The 1500m/3000m double champion from Birmingham, Poland's Lidia Chojecka, finished a disappointing seventh. Her championships are over because she did not advance to the 3000m final after dropping out just one lap into her heat this morning.
GREAT MATCH-UPS AHEAD IN 800M FINALS
In the women's 800m final tomorrow two Britons, Marilyn Okoro and Jenny Meadows, will face two Russians, defending champion Oksana Zbrozhek and Mariya Savinova. However, Tetyana Petlyuk of Ukraine or Elisa Cusma Piccione of Italy could easily win a medal. It should be a terrific race.
Today's semi-finals required the athletes to finish in the top-3 to advance, so each heat resembled a final. Zbrozhek and Okoro controlled the first heat, and they finished 1-2 with Savinova taking third. Ukrainian Tamara Tverdostup led the first half of the second heat, but couldn't hold the 59.8-second first half pace she had set. Petlyuk took over with two laps to go, taking Meadows with her. Cusma surged from fourth place with 150m to go, passed Meadows and would finish second behind Petlyuk.
Meadows, who finished fifth in these championships two years ago, was clearly excited to get another crack at the final. "Tomorrow's going to be interesting," she said. "Who knows if I get it right on the day?"
The men's 800m final is shaping up to be a two-way battle between Russia's Yuriy Borzakovskiy and Sweden's Mattias Claesson. Unlike in his preliminary heat where he stayed at the back of the pack, then surged for victory in the last lap, "Borza" took the lead before the 400m mark and simply ran away to victory in a relatively conservative 1:49-flat. Claesson, on the other hand, waited for one lap to go before making his move, exploding to the front off of a slow pace to finish first in 1:51.55. The combative Swede was anxious to get a shot at Borzakovskiy, the 2004 Olympic champion.
"We'll see tomorrow," said Claesson looking hard into this reporter's eyes. "But I'm not going to be the one who's backing down."
PHOTO: Russia's Anna Alminova after winning the 2009 European Indoor Championships 1500m title (Photo by Bob Ramsak)