Wisconsin's Ahmed competing
Mohammed Ahmed will compete the 10,000-meter run for Canada. Photo:AP
By Gary D'Amato
The Journal Sentinel
July 27, 2012
London - Canada has produced a long list of medal winners in a variety of sports at the Winter Olympics.
Distance running at the Summer Games? That's another story.
Mohammed Ahmed, who will be a senior at the University of Wisconsin, would like to change the perception that Canadians don't move fast unless they have skates or skis on their feet.
He easily met the Olympic "A" qualifying standard in the 10,000 meters in spring and then won the Canadian trials last month.
That earned Ahmed a spot in the 10K field at the London Games on Aug. 4.
"At the Canadian trials, the competition wasn't very tough," Ahmed admitted. "It was kind of a workout for me. Canadian distance running is not really big."
Ahmed, 21, is a relative unknown in London, but he has some good credentials. In April, at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif., he ran the 10K in a personal-best 27 minutes 34.64 seconds, well under the Olympic standard of 27:45.
Ahmed's time shattered the UW record set by Tim Nelson five years earlier by almost 30 seconds. It was the sixth-fastest time in the world this year.
"I've run a decent time," he said. "It's considered world-class. I don't consider myself world-class. I'm still an amateur. I'm a student-athlete. I'm compromising on a lot of things because I have to focus on the school part. It's very, very hard."
Ahmed was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, and also lived in Kenya and Ethiopia as a boy. He moved to Ontario at age 10 and became interested in track when he was in middle school.
"I was decent, but pretty much the best I finished in my district was sixth or seventh," he said. "I wasn't the best. In high school, I guess I grew and got more strength and that has kind of propelled me."
Now 5 feet 11 inches and 125 pounds, Ahmed runs track and cross country at Wisconsin, where he majors in both political science and international studies. He speaks fluent Somali and English and some Arabic.
"I'm also going for a certificate in Middle Eastern studies, so it's a lot," he said. "Running is a major as well. So I'm doing three majors and a certificate. It's very tough.
"I use school as a break from running and running as a break from school. You've got a balancing act and you've got to be a versatile individual."
Ahmed started running the 10K as a junior in high school. He holds the Canadian record at that distance and has finished as high as fourth at the World Junior Championships.
"I've had a lot of success in the 10K but I'd like to think I'm versatile and could do the 5K, the 3,000 and the 1,500 and be competitive in all of them," he said. "I want to be known as a 5K-10K guy. Maybe the marathon someday.
"I run a good 10K but I have to show I can race at multiple distances. Then maybe the shoe companies would be attracted to me. Canadians aren't very marketable, for whatever reason."
Ahmed wants to run professionally after college and would like to join former UW runners Nelson, Chris Solinsky, Matt Tegenkamp and countryman Simon Bairu in Oregon. All are sponsored by Nike and train under former Badgers coach Jerry Schumacher.
"I'm not going to lie to you and say I haven't thought of that because I have," he said. "Definitely, I want to run with those guys. They have 10 guys or more training together. That would be nice."
In the meantime, Ahmed hopes to make the most of his first Olympic Games.
"This being my first Olympic team, and me being 21 years old, I don't have any pressure on me to medal or finish top 15 or whatever," he said. "I just want to go out there to try to shock people.
"Nobody expects much from me and I don't expect much from myself. I'm going to enjoy the whole experience and learn and gain experience for future Olympics and World Championships."