LONDON — They’re track-and-field legends who have competed around the world, including at the Olympics and the London Marathon. They’ve run in stadiums packed with thousands of screaming fans, racing for medals and the glory of being crowned No. 1.
But an ugly feud between the British Olympian Mo Farah and his former childhood hero, Haile Gebrselassie, the Ethiopian runner who set 27 world records over his career, spilled into the public this week.
According to the athletes’ public statements and news reports, the dispute revolves around claims of a theft, unpaid bills and an unprovoked violent attack. It all comes as Mr. Farah, the most successful British track athlete in history, is preparing to run the London Marathon on Sunday.
The public became aware of the simmering dispute during the final moments of a news conference in London on Wednesday, where Mr. Farah lit the fuse. As the event was wrapping up, he used his last few minutes onstage to reveal that although his marathon training had gone according to plan, he had been the victim of theft in a hotel outside of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he spent the past few months training.
The hotel, the Yaya Africa Athletics Village, is one of five luxury resorts owned by Mr. Gebrselassie, who retired from professional running in May 2015.
Mr. Farah said that members of the hotel staff had broken into his room on March 23, the day of his 36th birthday, and had stolen two cellphones, a Tag Heuer watch that had been a present from his wife and around $3,000 in various currencies.
He said that he had appealed to Mr. Gebrselassie for help and to discuss the issues privately, but that he did not respond.
“When you stay for three months in that hotel, it was very disappointing to know that someone who has that hotel and that kind of support couldn’t do nothing,” he said at the London news conference.
Mr. Gebrselassie, 46, once regarded as the world’s greatest distance runner, responded on the same day with equally sharp comments in a news release, threatening Mr. Farah, a four-time Olympic champion who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017, with legal action.
“It’s with deep sorrow,” he wrote, that he had learned of the comments made by Mr. Farah against him and his property.
Five of the hotel’s employees were taken into custody for three weeks in connection with the theft and later released, Mr. Gebrselassie said in his statement. The police investigated the theft but “found nothing on the reported robbery case,” he added.
He also unleashed a litany of his own complaints about Mr. Farah’s stay at his hotel, claiming he had left without paying a $3,000 service bill, had been the subject of “multiple reports of disgraceful conduct” and had been reported to the police for an attack on a man and woman in the hotel’s gym.
The statement concluded with what was purported to be a text message sent by Mr. Farah on Monday that appeared to threaten Mr. Gebrselassie with damaging remarks: It said that the Somalian-born British runner would bring the matter up at the news conference and would not be responsible for the impact it would have on Mr. Gebrselassie and his business.
The text message signed off: “Greetings from a very disappointed friend, Sir Mo.”
“Mo is disappointed with this statement and the continued reluctance by the hotel and its owner to take responsibility for this robbery,” a spokeswoman for Mr. Farah said in an email. “Mo disputes all of these claims, which are an effort to distract from the situation.”
The two athletes have competed against each other on the track only once, in 2013 at the Great North Run in northeast England. Mr. Farah came in second, and Mr. Gebrselassie third.
Mr. Farah had previously described how watching Mr. Gebrselassie win the 10,000-meter race at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in a split-second sprint finish had inspired him to dream of becoming an Olympic champion.
The ugly row has soured relations between the two long-distance runners, both hailed as legends in the athletics world.
Speaking about the deterioration in their relationship, Mr. Gebrselassie, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner, told The Guardian on Thursday: “I am very, very sad. I loved this guy, but he has tried to destroy my name.”
Tensions between the runners were still running high a day after the dramatic accusations became public. In the interview with The Guardian, Mr. Gebrselassie accused Mr. Farah of punching a married couple and kicking them in an unprovoked attack and claimed he had pleaded with the police to not detain Mr. Farah.
The spokeswoman for Mr. Farah confirmed to The New York Times on Thursday that there had been an incident “a number of weeks ago,” but said, “It was categorically not of Mo’s making.”
Mr. Farah disputed the Ethiopian’s account of events, she added, claiming that Mr. Gebrselassie had not been present when the encounter took place and that Mr. Farah had raised a complaint “to the highest level” within the police.
Mr. Gebrselassie did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
While Mr. Farah contends with one public quarrel, the countdown is on for a professional challenge on Sunday: He hopes to beat his third-place finish at the London Marathon last year.
The last time that Mr. Gebrselassie competed in the marathon, in 2007, he never finished because of problems with asthma.