Quite simply it would be the greatest race in athletics history. The fastest sprinter the world has ever seen against the greatest distance runner on the planet. The TV audience would be huge, the sponsorship deals astronomical and the donations to charity off the scale.
Mo Farah, the double Olympic champion over 5,000 metres and 10,000m, threw down the gauntlet to Usain Bolt over the weekend when he proposed the race that every sports fan would want to see, a showdown with the Jamaican over either 600m or 800m in a one-off race in aid of the athletes’ respective charitable foundations.
“Are you up for that?” Farah urged Bolt. “Come on, you’ve got to do it. Let’s get it on.”
Bolt, the 100m and 200m world-record holder and the only athlete to win back-to-back 100m and 200m titles at successive Olympics, is not the kind of man to duck a challenge and on Monday responded: “That sounds fun. It’s going to be hard but it’s charity, so it’s all about fun and enjoyment. I’m up for anything. Anything’s possible.”
Although he ruled out taking on Farah over any distance further than 600m, Bolt appeared comfortable with the idea of racing over 1½ laps.
“Six hundred for sure I can try because I’ve done 600 metres in training,” he said.
But just who would win this incredible showdown, the ideal setting for which would be London’s Olympic Stadium?
The experts are already questioning whether Bolt may have overreached himself in accepting his good friend’s challenge.
Former athletes from both sprint and endurance backgrounds believe Bolt, world record holder at 100m and 200m, could be setting himself up for a world of lactic-induced pain by believing he can keep up with Farah, who appears to have found an altogether different gear this season.
Not only did Farah obliterate Steve Cram’s 28-year-old 1500m record in Monaco earlier this month but he also ran an astonishing 50.89 sec final lap at the end of a 5,000m in Gateshead in June.
David Moorcroft, the former 5,000m world-record holder, said his money would be on Bolt over 500m but that an extra 100m would make all the difference to the Londoner. “I would go Mo,” said Moorcroft. “Clearly Bolt would be on his shoulder at 400 and might also be on his shoulder at 500 but I think that Mo would have enough to win.”
Darren Campbell, the Olympic 200m silver medallist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, agreed that the 1½-lap distance would hand the advantage to Farah.
“Usain Bolt is a 100-200 runner,” he said. “There has been talk in the past about him moving up to 400 but the pain sprinters feel when they move up to 400 is phenomenal.
"It’s not a distance he would like to run but, in aid of charity, 600 would probably be the limit.
“As a 100-200 sprinter, a lot of the work he would do would be explosive work.
"The fact that he runs 200 means he will do over-distance work and 600 would probably be the limit of what he would do in training. He will run 600 but he won’t run it very quickly.
"It’s mainly to give him a base so he can get through the rounds in the World Championships and Olympic Games.”
The big question is, will the race actually get off the ground? Four years ago Ethiopian distance-running great Kenenisa Bekele threw down a similar challenge to Bolt to race him over 600m or 800m. Bolt’s reaction was initially positive but the race never materialised.
The difference this time is that Farah and Bolt share the same manager, London-based Ricky Simms, though when asked last night about a possible showdown, Simms said: “ I think the focus now is on the World Championships in Moscow and then we’ll see what happens after that. But have you ever seen Usain running 600 metres?”
Who would win?
David Moorcroft (former 5,000m world record holder): “I’ll take Mo over 600 metres, particularly if he goes for it the whole way, but I think it could be one of his toughest tactical challenges of the year.”
Darren Campbell (Olympic 200m silver medallist): “Mo can run 50 seconds for 400. Usain can run 45 seconds for 400. But when you take it up in distance it becomes very difficult for Bolt.”
Jason Gardener (Olympic 4 x 100m gold medallist): “I think I’ll go Mo Farah. He’s very quick and, from my experience as a sprinter, it would be a very big challenge for Bolt to hold him off.”
David Bedford (former 10,000m world record holder) “If I were a betting man, I’d be sticking a shed-load on Mo. We already know Mo can run 600 metres in 75 seconds. We don’t know if Usain could do that.”