Niagara runner matches expectations in international competition
There was no doubt in Mohammed Ahmed’s mind that he would end up on the podium at this past September’s world track and field championships.
“Absolutely,” the 28-year-old former St. Catharines resident said. “This was the first year where I carried those expectations with real conviction, quiet confidence and relaxation as well.”
That confidence resulted in a bronze medal in the 5,000 metres. It was the first distance medal ever won by a Canadian at the world championships.
“I definitely believed in it and I had dreamt about it for a number of years,” the former 11-time All-American at the University of Wisconsin said. “In previous years, I was inexperienced and I probably wanted it a little too badly. When it came to delivering, I tightened up a little too much.”
That didn’t happen in 2019.
“I was looking at the goal, but I wasn’t fixated on the goal and I really enjoyed the process more than I ever had before,” he said. “I dedicated myself to it and I showed up every single day working hard and not worrying about things. That enabled me to arrive at the world championships the fittest that I had ever been.”
It was a culmination of a year-long strategy.
“I stayed in the moment, I didn’t get too exhausted and I had a great relationship with my coach [Jerry Schumacher of the Bowerman Track Club],” he said. “Both of us had a good understanding that we could win or get a medal.”
He went into the worlds with no pressure.
“I had worked really hard, I was fit, I had given myself a great chance and I wasn’t tight or anxious.”
Ahmed dropped to fifth on the final lap of the 5,000 metres at the world championships after being in the lead with two laps to go, but he rallied to capture the bronze medal.
After winning the race, Ahmed was quoted as saying, “Third is as good as first when it’s your first time.”
For Ahmed, the quote was in response to coming short in a number of previous years.
“It was carrying a lot of weight and a lot of expectations,” he said. “I had expectations of getting a medal and in 2016, I was just short of it.”
That year, he placed fourth in the 5,000 metres at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“I was always knocking on the door and not being on the podium.”
All that changed with the bronze at the worlds.
“There was relief and there was pressure lifted off,” he said.
The bronze was the last in a trio of breakthroughs for Ahmed. He also broke the 27-minute mark for the 10,000 metres and dipped under the 13-minute mark for the 5,000 metres.
“I think I felt the exact same on all three of those occasions,” he said. “It was, finally. I had worked really hard for it for a number of years. It was if I had won.”
Of course, the medal was the most important achievement.
“More than anything, what validates people’s careers are medals and nobody is ever going to take away a medal,” Ahmed said. “You will always have that medal but your records, down the road, people are going to take them.”
He’s hoping it won’t be the last.
“Now that I have that medal and I am heading to the Olympics, I see the opportunities more than the pressure and expectations.”
He believes he is at the perfect point in his career to succeed.
“I feel that I have the right amount of experience, failures and success and I am also at the right age.”
Ahmed loves to share his stories with younger runners. Last November, he was at the Ontario Federation of Secondary Schools Association championships in Sudbury, where he enjoyed meeting the teen competitors.
His message to them was simple.
“Anything is possible and you have to dream big. One of the big things I told them was to enjoy it, create goals for yourself and more than anything enjoy the process.”
He describes his running career as a journey.
“I didn’t really plan out to be on this journey, but I just stumbled upon it and I had guiding and encouraging individuals who were part of my journey,” he said. “I was lucky to have those individuals. I felt like I was serious and sometimes too serious, but I’ve tried to enjoy it as best I could.”
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