Mo Speed

Canadian Running - - FEATURES - By Paul Gains

While the me­dia seemed to fo­cus on pretty much ev­ery other run­ner in Canada, a 25-year-old So­mali im­mi­grant raised in St. Catharines, Ont. qui­etly evolved into the coun­try’s best cur­rent dis­tance run­ner. Mo­hammed Ahmed, the new Cana­dian 5,000m record holder, doesn’t care about fast times, only win­ning. He be­lieves he can taken on ev­ery­one – the dop­ers, the su­per­stars, the reign­ing cham­pion – en route to do­ing some­thing spe­cial this sum­mer in Rio.

Me­dia at­ten­tion has been fo­cused on var­i­ous other Cana­dian track and field dis­ci­plines the past three years which has al­lowed Mo­hammed Ahmed to qui­etly evolve into the coun­try’s best dis­tance run­ner.

The 25-year-old St. Catharines, Ont. na­tive achieved the Rio Olympic qual­i­fy­ing stan­dards in both the 5,000m and 10,000m last sea­son and can there­fore fo­cus com­pletely on Games prepa­ra­tion. More­over, he can draw from his very im­pres­sive com­pet­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.

Be­sides rep­re­sent­ing Canada at four iaaf world cross-coun­try cham­pi­onships Ahmed first served no­tice he could be a world­class run­ner when he fin­ished fourth at the 2010 iaaf World Ju­nior Cham­pi­onships in Monc­ton, N.B. Just two years later, while still study­ing po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin, Ahmed ran a 10,000m per­sonal best of 27:34.64 to earn a place on his first Olympic team. His 18th place fin­ish i n Lon­don was ad­mirable.

A year later he went to Moscow and wound up ninth in the iaaf World Cham­pi­onships 10,000m fi­nal. No Cana­dian be­fore him had ever cracked the top 10 at this dis­tance. Last sea­son he made the 5,000m fi­nal at his sec­ond se­nior world cham­pi­onships. These ac­com­plish­ments have put him in the right frame of mind head­ing into Rio.

“I ex­pect to com­pete with the top guys, hon­estly. I have had a lot of world cham­pi­onships ex­pe­ri­ence at a young age,” he ex­plains. “That re­ally helps me. I’m 25 and at that peak but I feel that time is run­ning out and I re­ally want to com­pete with the best and go out there and try to get a medal. That, es­sen­tially, is what I want to ac­com­plish.”

With the un­cer­tainty of where the iaaf and World Anti Dop­ing Agency’s in­ves­ti­ga­tions are headed no­body knows who will line up in Rio. Ahmed doesn’t con­cern him­self about what some Kenyans and Ethiopi­ans might be do­ing pre­fer­ring to put in the hard train­ing as he al­ways has.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing in awe of Kenyans and Ethiopi­ans when I was on na­tional teams,” he says. “You think ‘they are amaz­ing ath­letes and I could never beat them.’ But ob­vi­ously, as I have grown older, there are al­ways whis­pers of dop­ing. It’s cringe-wor­thy.

“It’s numb­ing too, be­cause ev­ery per­for­mance you see out there, that is one of the things that comes into your head: is that


clean, is that real? I try to stay naive be­cause I re­ally don’t want to think about that and give them an ad­van­tage by think­ing ‘they are on drugs and I can’t beat them.’ I know I am do­ing it clean and do­ing it to the best of my abil­ity.”

Ahmed truly be­lieves that re­gard­less of the com­po­si­tion of the Olympic 10,000m fi­nal he can fight for a medal po­si­tion.

“Yeah, I re­ally do,” he in­sists. “Given I am healthy go­ing into the race I think I can def­i­nitely do it. You kind of see the pro­gres­sion in the one year. In the 2012 Olympics I was 18th in the 10,000m then the next year I was ninth.

“I was there with a lap to go, right there with those guys. But I just didn’t have the strength to keep up with them and sprint with them. Over the past two years I have im­proved my kick. Ob­vi­ously my strength has im­proved as well.”

Ahmed un­der­scored that point at last sum­mer’s Pan Am Games in Toronto where he took the 10,000m gold medal with a ter­rific last lap sprint. Un­til that race, his kick had been his weak point.

Af­ter per­form­ing well in the Bei­jing world cham­pi­onships a place in the star-stud­ded Brus­sels Di­a­mond League 5,000m was con­firmed. He took full ad­van­tage of his good for­tune re­mov­ing more than three sec­onds from the Cana­dian record with a bril­liant 13:10 clock­ing. That’s six sec­onds faster than Cana­dian ri­val Cam Levins has ever run.

Eigh­teen months ago Ahmed moved to Port­land, Ore. af­ter be­ing in­vited to join the Nike-spon­sored Bow­er­man Track Club. Nike pays him a salary in ad­di­tion to his $1,500 monthly Sport Canada stipend. This al­lows him to train twice a day and suf­fi­cient time to re­cover be­tween ses­sions. He also has ac­cess to phys­io­ther­apy and, most im­por­tantly, the wis­dom of coach Jerry Schu­macher.

Ahmed shares a house with reign­ing U.S. 5,000m cham­pion Ryan Hill, mid­dledis­tance spe­cial­ist Ger­man Fer­nan­dez and a new ad­di­tion to the club, Cana­dian 3,000m steeple­chase record holder, Matt Hughes. A lot of their train­ing is done to­gether.

“Hon­estly, our group has so much fun,” Ahmed says of his team­mates. “Ev­ery­one gets along re­ally well. It doesn’t feel like work.

“We kind of make fun of each oth­ers’ man­ner­isms. For me it’s the way that I talk. Ryan Hill is an im­per­son­ator. He will get on your voice and your man­ner­isms how you speak and will cre­ate some crazy story and act it out as you. And we make fun of our coach a lot.”

Ahmed was born in Mo­gadishu, So­ma­lia and spent the first 10 years of his life in Kenya. He ar­rived in Canada just be­fore his 11th birth­day.

Grow­ing up in St Catharines, he be­came a mu­sic fan. Ac­cord­ingly he has in­tro­duced his room­mates to the mu­sic of Cana­di­ans Dal­las Green (City and Colour), k-os and K’naan, the lat­ter be­ing a fel­low So­mali-Cana­dian. And like K’naan, when he has free time, Ahmed en­joys the soli­tude of writ­ing po­etry.

“It’s sort of like self ther­apy,” he says of his writ­ing. “It’s what­ever thoughts I have. It’s scrib­bling more than any­thing. I am quite shy about shar­ing my work.”

So­ma­lian her­itage is some­thing he also shares with the reign­ing Olympic and world 5,000 and 10,000m cham­pion, Mo Farah.

They are re­lated through their ori­gin in the Isaaq clan of north­west­ern So­ma­lia. Both live in Port­land now although Farah, a Bri­tish cit­i­zen, trains un­der the Nike Ore­gon Project. They some­times see each other at the Nike track fa­cil­ity and will jog to­gether. Oth­er­wise they stay in touch via Face­book and tex­ting.

While Farah has been spend­ing win­ters at a high-al­ti­tude train­ing site in Ethiopia the Bow­er­man Track Club mem­bers have been in Flagstaff, Ariz. A short spring­time train­ing camp at Park City, Utah (2,500 m) was in the cards, too. The re­sults have been re­mark­able al­ready. In Fe­bru­ary, he broke Kevin Sullivan’s Cana­dian 3,000m record with a time of 7:40.11. It was also a 15-sec­ond per­sonal im­prove­ment.

Although the Olympics is the pri­mary fo­cus Ahmed does ad­mit to won­der­ing if he could run a 10,000m un­der 27 min­utes one day.

“That’s a goal of mine to go un­der 27 for sure,” he ad­mits. “Although run­ning fast times would be nice, and it would be a dream, I never try to chase records. I try to let it come to me.

“It’s all about beat­ing peo­ple in the race. I love the big stages and the Olympics and world cham­pi­onships. I al­ways show up there. That’s my main fo­cus, big races.”

OP­PO­SITE Ahmed at the 2013 Pre­fontaine Clas­sic in Eu­gene, Ore.

BE­LOW LEFT Ahmed set­ting the Cana­dian 5,000m record in Brus­sels, 2015

BE­LOW RIGHT Ahmed dur­ing the 5,000m fi­nal at the IAAF World cham­pi­onships, Bei­jing, 2015

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