Olympics: Badgers' Mohammed Ahmed to race against his idols in London
Mohammed Ahmed was pretty hard to miss Tuesday when he showed up to hang out with the press and talk about his excellent adventure.
A junior distance standout for the University of Wisconsin men’s track team, Ahmed will run in the 10,000 meters for Canada in the Summer Olympics in London next month. He took a few moments to assess the moment and did so in unflappable fashion.
Ahmed arrived at the Dan McClimon Memorial Track riding his bike in early-afternoon, habanero-like heat that pushed the mercury into triple digits.
He was wearing prescription glasses, stylish red-and-black checkered shorts, a bright red Team Canada-issued collared shirt and a white baseball-style cap, also from the Maple Leaf collection.
He stood before a gaggle of TV, radio and print reporters — all in various stages of odor and wetness because of the blast furnace conditions — and didn’t betray a single bead of sweat.
If you think that’s remarkable, check out the past couple months of Ahmed’s life.
A 21-year-old from St. Catharines, Ontario, Ahmed became a pulsing blip on the international radar in April when he ran 27 minutes, 34.64 seconds in the 10,000 at the Payton Jordan Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif. That time not only set a school record, it eclipsed the “A” standard for Olympic competition.
Ahmed followed by winning the Olympic Trials in Calgary in June, securing a berth in London and becoming a rare participant who still has collegiate eligibility remaining in 2012-13.
Mick Byrne, a UW track assistant who doubles as coach of the reigning NCAA champion men’s cross country team, said qualifying for London was the goal for Ahmed, so in a sense he wasn’t surprised Ahmed followed through. But that qualifying time in California was stunning to both Byrne and Canadian track authorities.
“There aren’t that many collegians that can run that fast,” said Byrne, who will accompany Ahmed to London, a trip underwritten by the UW Athletic Department.
“They were pegging me as a 2016 hopeful,” Ahmed said of Team Canada officials, adding their projections fueled his desire to get to London.
“I didn’t want to wait,” he said. “This has been my biggest dream for the past four, five years.”
Ahmed was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, but his family moved to Canada when he was 11. He began distance running in 2005 and came to look up to some of the same men who will line up against Ahmed on Aug. 4. Specifically, the group includes two-time defending Olympic champion and world record-holder Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, Mo Farah of Great Britain and Matt Tegenkamp, the former UW great and two-time Olympian for Team USA.
“It’s going to be an honor,” Ahmed said, noting he communicates occasionally via Facebook with Farah, who also was born in Somalia. “I’m going to be star-struck, I think, once they call us into the calling area and I’m standing right in front of them.”
That fuzziness won’t last long, though.
“They’re just human beings,” Ahmed said. “They just train very hard and are dedicated to what they do.”
Especially Bekele, who won the 5,000-10,000 double at the 2008 Olympics and ran 26:17.53 to set the world record in the 10,000 in 2005.
“That’s very ridiculous,” Ahmed said.
But when asked for a realistic outcome in London, Ahmed refused to give anything away.
He likes the fact he’ll be an unknown, an underdog. And he likes to think big.
“Anything’s possible. Anything can happen,” he said. “It’s an even field as soon as you’re at the starting line.
“I could be destined to be the winner. I have no idea.”
Byrne has been in the coaching business for almost 30 years and Ahmed is his first Olympian.
“A great honor,” Byrne said.
The two already have gotten past their first issue related to the games. Ahmed wanted to take part in the Opening Ceremonies on July 27, but was bummed to learn that he and his Canadian teammates will be sequestered in Germany for an eight-day training camp instead.
“Getting his head wrapped around that took a little bit of time,” Byrne said.
“I get to see another country that I’ve never been to, so that’s good,” Ahmed said.
Byrne said he hopes Ahmed, who leaves Saturday for London, will soak up every nanosecond of the experience and savor it. As for the race, which will be run in the cool of the evening, he wants to see Ahmed at least duplicate his performance at the Payton Jordan.
“He’ll go with the race,” Byrne said. “He’s not afraid of the big names. He’ll get out there and go in back of the front bunch and see what happens. He’s got nothing to lose.
“He’s going to get out there and give it his best and it’s going to be awesome to see.
“We’ll see Canada on his chest, but I’ll see the ‘W.’ ”
- Wisconsin State Journal