A fresh-looking Mo Ahmed darts to the front of the pack and appears in control just past the halfway mark of the men’s 5,000 metres in Zurich. The Canadian can taste victory as he holds off Mo Farah, seeking to steal the spotlight from the legendary distance runner in the latter’s final track race.
They take turns at the front, with Ahmed looking back at Farah after 4,200 metres as the 10-time global champion sat on his shoulder.
A great tactician, Farah surges with 600 metres remaining, takes the lead at the bell lap and fights off a furious push from American Paul Chelimo and 2017 world champion Muktar Edris in the final metres to win the Diamond League Trophy to go with his four Olympic gold medals and six world titles.
”I look back at the video where my body and torso were, my hands and arms, and you can tell I’m kind of fighting my forward momentum,” Ahmed said over the phone earlier this week from his Phoenix residence.
The Somalia-born, St. Catharines, Ont.-raised runner finished sixth that Aug. 24 evening at Letzigrund Stadium, but was later awarded fifth following Chelimo’s disqualification for pushing Farah and Edris across the finish line.
“Tactically, I wasn’t savvy at all, and stupid in a lot of ways,” Ahmed recalled. “I’m leading the race and I think I could have pushed. I kind of hesitated. We went through the 3,000 [metre mark] at 7:51 and I was with the rabbits [pace-setters] and the other guys were right on me.
“I could have said, ‘Be brave, attack the race and run as hard as you can four or five laps out.’ I just let the race go and pace go, and made it slow. I gave [the race] to the other guys.
“I’m probably better off at a long-drawn-out kick. It’s one of those things I’m still focusing on and learning.”
At the Boston University Last Chance Meet in February, Ahmed squeezed through the gaps of the opposition over the final 600 metres to crush the indoor Canadian record in the 5,000 in 13 minutes 4.60 seconds. In early July, he also displayed a devastating finishing kick in defending his Canadian championship at Ottawa.
“I’m still learning about myself,” said the 26-year-old Ahmed, who finished sixth in the 5,000 at the world championships last month in London after placing 12th in 2015. “I have a lot of international experience … but in winning those races, you don’t just go there one time, experience something, come home and do it perfectly the next time. I think I’m figuring it out.”
Ahmed’s season would be deemed a success by many, given his five personal-best times, national records in the indoor two-mile, indoor 5,000, outdoor 3,000 and 10,000, plus his two top-10 finishes at worlds.
Personal bests set in 2017
- Indoor 2-mile: 8:13.16 — Feb. 11, New York
- Indoor 5,000m: 13:04.60 — Feb. 26, Boston
- 10,000:27:02.35 — Aug. 4, London, England
- Mile: 3:56.60 — Aug. 20, Birmingham, England
- 3,000:7:40.49 — Aug. 29, Zagreb, Croatia
However, Ahmed views the Canadian milestones as “participation awards” since he only won one of the aforementioned races.
‘The way I attack and look at a race needs to be fixed.’— Canadian distance runner Mo Ahmed on his off-season outlook
“The bar is set at winning and getting a medal, at the very least. I think I did 12 races [on the season] and they were good performances, but I didn’t have anything that … I could smile at and really celebrate,” said Ahmed, who ended his season on Aug. 29 by breaking Kevin Sullivan’s nine-year-old national mark in the 3,000 at the IAAF World Challenge in Zagreb, Croatia.
During the off-season, in between playing basketball and relaxing — “waking up and not having anything planned is kind of fun” — Ahmed plans to work with Bowerman Track Club coach Jerry Schumacher to get physically stronger, identify his weaknesses, increase the volume of his training and run beyond 161 kilometres (100 miles) on a weekly basis.
“Not being brave enough [to take a chance in a race] is some sort of weakness,” said Ahmed, who doesn’t plan to run cross-country or a marathon in the near future. “I’m kind of missing something in a race because I feel like I’m doing everything I can outside of the track.
“The way I attack and look at a race needs to be fixed. I’m not strong enough yet to hang on and have enough to finish the race and win.”