Canada’s Mohammed Ahmed patiently moved up through the pack, picking off the runners in front of him one by one, before making his bold move with 600 metres to go. He pulled to the outside and charged to the lead.
Anyone who’s watched the 30-year-old from St. Catharines, Ont., over the past few years could have predicted it. Gutsy moves have become his track trademark.
Ahmed looked headed for a medal, but he couldn’t maintain the pace and faded over the final 300 metres to finish sixth in the 10,000 on Friday at the Tokyo Olympics. It was his first time racing the distance since the 2019 world championships.
“I think it’s always been my play. You look at a guy like [four-time Olympic champion] Mo Farah, who dominated the last eight years, the sort of move that made him dominate the world the last eight years, he was doing that [move] for five, six years prior to that,” Ahmed said.
“Everybody has a way that they’ve learned, it’s kind of like basketball, everybody has a go-to move. You’ve got to read the race and try and, like, use your tools. That’s what I was trying to do.”
Ahmed crossed the finish line in 27 minutes 47.76 seconds. His Canadian record, set in finishing sixth at the 2019 world championships, is 26:59.35.
Selemon Barega of Ethiopia won gold in 27.43.22 ahead of Ugandans Joshua Cheptegei and Jacob Kiplimo.
Ahmed crossed the finish line completely spent. Ten metres past the line, he fell to the track, his legs and arms splayed like a starfish.
If he had the race to run over again, Ahmed said he would’ve attacked it in exactly the same fashion.
“I’m not ashamed of that, I put myself in it, I made myself a player, tried making winning moves,” said Ahmed. “Unfortunately, I just didn’t have too much in that last 250 you know, maybe 300. So, yeah, there’s nothing to be ashamed of, these guys are cream of the crop, the best of the world. And anytime that you could compete against them, you’ve just got to be grateful for the opportunity. And I’ll try to take something away from that.”
Ahmed, who was eighth in the 10,000 at the 2016 Rio Olympics, knelt on one knee in the media interview area after the race. Because of COVID-19 protocols, reporters must stand two metres from athletes, and place their recorders on a small table, and so Ahmed generously knelt to speak directly into the recorders.
The race had been typically physical, with runners jostling for position. Ahmed said the soles of his Nike spikes were missing a few chunks from being stepped on.
Canada has never won an Olympic medal in the men’s 5,000 or 10,000 metres. Ahmed, who has blazed a trail for Canadian distance runners on the global scene in the past few years, will try to change that in Tokyo. He runs the 5,000 heats on Tuesday, the distance that has given him better results. His bronze in the 5,000 at the 2019 world championships in Doha was the country’s first world championship medal in a distance event.
He was fourth over that distance at the Rio Olympics, and he’s the North American record-holder in the 5,000. Canadian teammate Justyn Knight is the second-fastest North American in history and could also challenge for a medal.
Friday was the opening day for track and field at Olympic Stadium, and the empty 48,000-seat venue -- no fans are permitted owing to Tokyo’s COVID-19 state of emergency -- painted an eerie backdrop for the racing.
It was a far cry from the 2012 Olympics in London, when Farah raced to victory in both the 5,000 and 10,000 in front of his hometown crowd. The cheering was deafening.
Ahmed said he wasn’t bothered by the quiet, cavernous stadium, which looked arguably better on television than in-person, as the multicoloured seats could almost be mistaken for fans on TV.
“That’s distance running, I’ve been running in these sorts of situations for a long time ... I don’t really care. That’s kind of, like, how it is it, I mean, in the distance world,” he said.
Ahmed was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, and he and his family arrived in Canada -- by way of Kenya -- when he was 11. He ran NCAA track for the University of Wisconsin, and he now trains in Portland with the Bowerman Track Club.
Tokyo is his third Olympics.
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