Ahmed picks up his hardware in person
Moh Ahmed has made a habit of winning the St. Catharines Athlete of the Year Award.
The 31-year-old former St. Catharines resident won the award by himself in 2009, 2016 and 2019 and shared it in 2021 with Olympic gold medalist Kristen Kit. But the 2021 Olympic silver medalist in the 5,000 metres had never received the award in person until Tuesday at Canada Games Park. In front a small gathering of family, close friends and long-time coaches, the native of Mogadishu, Somalia, was presented with the award along with the key to the city of St. Catharines by outgoing mayor Walter Sendzik.
In typical Ahmed fashion, the ever-humble and ever-gracious runner took the time after accepting the award to thank Sendzik for his service to St. Catharines.
Among the former coaches watching the ceremony were Perry Wakulich, Bob Waite, Sharon Stewart and Alex Acs.
“Yes it’s hard work, yes it’s a grind and sometimes those things are just part of your skill, part of your talent and for me I have always loved the process and pursuit of the goal more than getting the goal,” Ahmed said. “But you need people to believe in you and to drop in a little bit of encouragement every once in awhile. In an athlete’s life, there’s doubts, there’s uncertainty and there’s people who outshine you and maybe you start thinking you don’t have it. It’s coming back to the people who were there from the start and random people who you have never really met who say a little bit of encouragement.”
The St. Catharines Collegiate grad looked back at his humble beginnings in the sport.
“For me starting in Grade 9, I didn’t know my talent and I didn’t know what I really had. I was trying to go out for the cross country team because it would give me an excuse to skip one day of classes and have a little break,” he said, with a smile. “All the individuals, my teachers, my coaches, my family and people out in the city realized it and said, ‘Mohammed you have something and we are going to try and support you as best we can.’ I wouldn’t be here without St. Catharines.”
The Niagara Olympic Club member took time to reflect on his Olympic silver medal.
“I’m not someone who gets too emotional through ups and downs. My whole career has been defined as consistent, incremental improvements. I am not going to lie, the last two years — maybe it was the pandemic and the years and miles are piling up on me— it was a bit emotional. The reason was that I have been actually running for 15 years. I started at 13 years old and 15 years have passed. I have had all these up and downs of this journey all in hopes of putting myself in a position to medal.”
That medal finally came last summer in Tokyo.
“I was very emotional in the days leading up to it and when I crossed the finish line, there was pride, excitement and celebration but most of it was more about relief because so many people have encouraged me.”
This year, the bronze medalist in 5,000 metres at the 2019 world championships finished fifth in the 5,000 metres and sixth in the 10,000 metres at the world championships.
After racing in a heat for the 5,000 metres, Ahmed was quoted as saying, ‘Oh my God. The game has changed.’
He explained that remark Tuesday.
“There’s more depth and it seems like there’s really, really good athletes coming out every single year running super fast times,” he said. “It is partly because they have younger bodies and it’s also because there has been a progressions in technology. There has also been improvements in training. Everyone is smarter.”
The margins between being on and off the podium are miniscule.
“Last year I was on top of the world, on that podium, and a mere 10 months later I am fifth. I am still close and it’s not like I have fallen off a cliff but the margins are very, very small and I have always know that,” he said. “It is positioning, it is tactics and it all those things that get you over the line.”
Ahmed is more than happy with the progress he made in 2022.
“It wasn’t a bad year by any means. If you really look at the performances I had this year, they were even better than I had last year,” he said. “If you take the medal and one other race out (in 2021), every other performance that I ran was just OK. At the big moments, I delivered. This year, I didn’t bring a medal home but I was there. I was less that half a second from being on the podium.”
But close is never good enough.
“It hurts but I feel motivated. It’s a little setback for hopefully a bigger comeback in the years to come.”
It is a measure of how far Ahmed has come as runner when people ask what happened when he finishes fifth in the world. Not long ago, a parade would have been held for a Canadian runner achieving that standard.
“I have been right there so many times and I have had moments at the top. I am going to keep doing that and hopefully in the next three years, I will be at the top.”