Mohammed Ahmed, like everyone else, saw this year going differently. This was originally supposed to be the year that, for the first time in his life, he had a real shot at becoming an Olympic champion – Canada’s first-ever Olympic champion in a distance event on the track. However, those plans have been put on hold, and in the meantime he’s set personal bests at intra-squad meets with his Bowerman teammates, including a new Canadian 5,000m record.
Ahmed says he’s happy with how things have gone, in spite of everything. “I wasn’t sure if I’d even have these racing opportunities,” he says. “The most frustrating thing for me during quarantine was regretting that I didn’t race more over the winter. I wasn’t sure if I’d messed this entire year up.” Ahmed didn’t race this past indoor season, instead opting to go to altitude and train. Thankfully Bowerman has the resources and talent to put together strong fields and race themselves, alternating pacing and racing duties.
Ahmed says he’s thankful that everything came together: “It’s all been so last-minute, and it was so hard waiting. Once we got the chance, I knew I wanted to take advantage. I mean, mission accomplished.” Mission accomplished for Ahmed means a 3:34 1,500m and 12:47 5,000m, both personal bests, one a Canadian record and one the fifth-fastest in Canadian history.
It took Ahmed until 2019 to break the 3:40 1,500m barrier, which is a little shocking for someone who’s at his level of running. But Ahmed explains that he believes he’s been capable of running this fast, or faster, for years. “I think the only reason I didn’t run faster, sooner, was because I wasn’t getting into the right races, and when I was racing the 1,500m it was during heavy training. I was never peaked or tapered. For example, in 2016 I did a workout and ran a 2:50 1,200m, took a couple minutes off, and ran a 600m in 1:20. I felt like I was in 3:33 shape then at least.”
What Ahmed points to is that runners can be in shape to run a certain time, but that doesn’t always directly translate to strong results. To run times as fast as 3:34, you need to tailor your training and end up in the “right” race, which means a race that’s paced to go fast and runs smoothly. Ahmed chalks up his success this summer to his 2019 season, where he earned his first global medal in the World Championship 5,000m. “I honestly feel like this is carryover from 2019. Like, 12:47 is a good time, but it’s the residual effect of my last outdoor season. In many ways we were operating with less-than-ideal conditions. Our gym program has been compromised. We haven’t been able to get treatment until recently. So I’m looking at these intra-squad races and seeing all of the inefficiencies in my form and my posture because of our circumstances. If I fix all of these things, think about how much faster I can go.”
Olympic gold remains the goal for 2021. Ahmed says this has always been the goal, but now he’s truly a contender. “It’s no longer a dream to run those times and do those things. I’ve been building up the courage and confidence to say with full certainty that I’m capable of Olympic gold. Bekele, El Guerrouj, Kipchoge – I want to be that too. When you’re a kid it’s a dream, but now it’s a reality.”
Ahmed says the pandemic has taken its toll on him, just like everyone else. It’s hard to train for an Olympics that might not happen. “I’m realistic that there are big questions about Tokyo, and if it’ll even happen. It’s hard sometimes to put that out of your mind, but I’m trying my best. The future is filled with uncertainty.”
For now, Ahmed will run one or two more meets against his teammates before shutting it down for the season. “We’re not sure what events those meets will have. It’s always a very last-minute decision.” Then he’ll take some time off before building for (hopefully) the best season of his life.