At an altitude training camp earlier this month, Moh Ahmed didn’t know if he was in good shape or would be at the start of this week’s World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
Ahmed’s performance in his only two outdoor track races this year — June 2 in Italy and July 21 in Monaco — was well shy of his 2020 Olympic silver-medal effort in Tokyo over 5,000 metres.
“I know training has indicated better,” the Canadian runner told CBC Sports from Switzerland, where he was getting acclimated to the six-hour time change. “I should be ready and competitive [at worlds], and better than last year.”
Ahmed, who was fifth in the 5,000 and sixth in the 10,000 last July in Eugene, Ore., noted he has been happy with his training volume, consistency and physical well-being between sessions since Day 1 last October.
“It hasn’t been perfect, and I’ve had little setbacks here and there,” said Ahmed, who was hampered by a minor hamstring issue over the winter. “[But] I’ve seen glimpses of good movement and feeling in my body [throughout the season] that would indicate [I’m] heading in the right direction.”
Jerry Schumacher, who has coached Ahmed since 2014 at the now Eugene-based Bowerman Track Club, raved about the 32-year-old athlete to CBC Sports when discussing how he looked running at 5,400 feet in Switzerland.
Canada’s Moh Ahmed just misses out on the podium at the World Athletics Championships in the men’s 5,000m with a fifth-place finish in a time of 13:10.46 🇨🇦 <a href=”https://t.co/61cs6yfam0″>pic.twitter.com/61cs6yfam0</a>
“I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Moh yet,” he said. “You want to time your moments well when you’re an older athlete. He’s sliding into better and better fitness.
“So many athletes this time of year are either maintaining or going backwards and hanging on. [Moh’s] still getting better and I’m trying to be optimistic he’s going to time this perfectly for Budapest.”
Never found rhythm
Those who watched Ahmed reach the finish line 10th in 13 minutes 1.58 seconds in Monaco might have wondered if the Somalia-born, St. Catharines, Ont.-raised runner was hanging on, despite a light race schedule this season. His personal best is 12:47.20 from July 10, 2020.
After arriving three days earlier following a long flight, he “felt off the entire race” and never found the proper footing or rhythm on a humid evening.
I don’t remember [physically] hurting that bad or suffering for that much [in a race] in a long, long time.— Canadian distance runner Moh Ahmed on the men’s 5,000 metres July 21 in Monaco
It was a 1-2-3 finish for Ethiopia, led by Hagos Gebrhiwet in a personal-best 12:42.18, followed by Berihu Aregawi (12:42.58) and Haile Bekele Telahun (12:42.70).
“A 12:41, 12:42-type race is what [I’ve] dreamt about [my] entire career,” said Ahmed, who was fresh off six weeks of training at altitude in Park City, Utah after running 12:56.46 at the Golden Gala Diamond League meet in Florence, Italy. “Falling off [the lead group] pisses you off. Despite that and my mind going all sorts of places, I didn’t let myself off the hook. I could have dropped out but battled hard.
“I don’t remember [physically] hurting that bad or suffering for that much [in a race] in a long, long time.”
The 18th fastest 5,000 runner in history and No. 2 all-time among North American men wants to maintain a better presence throughout his two races in Budapest.
WATCH l Breaking down what makes Ahmed a threat over 5,000 metres:
Ahmed will race the 10,000 final on Sunday at 12:25 p.m. ET and Round 1 of the 5,000 on Aug. 24 at 1 p.m. The final is Aug. 27 at 2:10 p.m. CBCSports.ca will carry all the live streams for the entire event.
Watch Athletics North every day during the World Athletics Championships on CBCSports.ca and CBC Sports YouTube Channel for the rundown of the day’s top stories and events. Rob Pizzo will be joined by our track and field analysts, including Morgan Campbell, to bring you the latest storylines.
It was a case of missed opportunity last summer in Eugene, Ahmed stressed, particularly in the 5,000, won by 22-year-old Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway.
“I had a medal with 50 [metres] to go and misexecuted, really,” recalled the three-time Olympian who won 2019 world bronze in Doha, Qatar. “[It was] a home [world] championships and I wanted a medal. The fact I wasn’t able to deliver for myself, my coaches and for my country, that was very, very disappointing. Many things went wrong.”
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‘I wish I ran the race smarter’
Ahmed made a move to the outside 1,000 metres from the finish and sat third with Ingebrigtsen, who took the lead for good with about 800 to go. Ahmed passed Bowerman teammate Grant Fisher into third 100 metres to the finish, but Oscar Chelimo overtook the Canadian on the outside while Luis Grijalva of Guatemala ran by Ahmed 20 metres from the line.
“I wish I ran the race smarter, put myself in better position well in advance [of the straightaway] and I think it would have given me a better outcome,” said Ahmed, a four-time Canadian champion in the 5,000.
It doesn’t mean he would have won a medal, Schumacher cautioned.
“You can do everything perfect and not medal. I think he ran a little wide on the turn and that costs you,” added Schumacher, who is also head coach of the University of Oregon cross-country and track and field program. “All you can do is maximize your potential on that day and see where it gets you.”
The 10,000 has never been Ahmed’s favourite race but he placed sixth at the Tokyo Olympics and won Canadian titles in 2012 and 2013. He said he’s more ready than ever to run the distance in Hungary after Schumacher changed his training volume for the event and the way he does his reps, or repetitions.
“I haven’t watched last year’s 10,000 [from worlds] but I know I could never get close to the front that whole race,” said Ahmed. “We’ve been working on our ability to finish and dictate a race, have that courage to push it [far from the end].”
WATCH l Ahmed victorious at Ottawa 10K:
Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda won in 27:27.42 ahead of Kenya’s Stanley Mburu (27:27.90) and teammate Jacob Kiplimo (27:27.97).
Standing atop the medal podium at worlds or the Olympics remains the motivation for Ahmed, whose contract with Nike runs through next year’s Summer Games in Paris.
“I’ve been inching closer these last eight years. I’ve tasted the podium,” he said. “The biggest driver is to get what I don’t have, which is gold or two medals [one each in the 5,000 and 10,000]. That’s very hard to do.
“You have to go out there and take it. I want to display my fitness and the athlete I felt I’ve been capable of being for many, many years.”
After worlds, Ahmed will return to the Diamond League circuit in a 5,000 race on Aug. 31 in Zurich and hopes to end his season at the Sept. 16-17 Prefontaine Classic, host of the Diamond League Final in Eugene.
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