Prefontaine Classic puts Ahmed back on world stage


Ahmed

May 30, 2013

Watch: Prefontaine Classic (Friday Events) Small Video Graphic

BY BRIAN MASON
UW Athletic Communications

EUGENE, Ore. -- Mohammed Ahmed has been awfully quiet these past couple months.

Maybe too quiet…

While his Wisconsin teammates have been competing from coast to coast over the past two months, Ahmed’s name has been nowhere to be found in the results. Still, the junior has been putting in work behind the scenes, training through a redshirt season.

Out of a Badgers uniform since helping put UW on the podium at the NCAA indoor championships in March, Ahmed hasn’t been seen in any uniform since leading his native Canada to its best-ever finish at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships two weeks later.

Ahmed will break his competitive silence Friday when he returns to the world stage for an elite 10,000 meters race at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore. The race will be Ahmed’s first outdoor competition since running to an 18th-place finish at the Olympics last summer in London.

“It’s been eight or nine weeks of training where I feel like I’ve been doing some of the best workouts of my life,” Ahmed said. “I’m going to have confidence.”

The 10,000 is part of Friday’s “Distance Night in Eugene,” a star-studded schedule supplementing Saturday’s events, which make up the IAAF Diamond League portion of the Prefontaine Classic. UW alum Chris Solinsky will also run in a loaded 1500 meters Friday as he works his way back from a severe hamstring injury that completely derailed his 2012 season.

The Diamond League is the world’s premier professional track series and features two U.S. stops, the Pre Classic and last week’s adidas Grand Prix in New York.

Despite the loss of defending Olympic gold medalist Mo Farrah -- who announced Thursday his intention to drop down to Saturday’s 5000-meter race instead -- the 10,000 features a tremendous field that includes world record-holder Kenenisa Bekele, London bronze medalist Tariku Bekele and four others ranked in the current world top 10.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Ahmed said. “Guys that were top 10 at the Olympics are here. Hopefully I can gain more experience.”

However, the race is more than just a chance for Ahmed to test his fitness against some the of the world’s best.

On a practical level, it’s his outdoor season debut and he still needs to achieve some specific qualifying standards. While he won’t be sweating over the first objective -- breaking 31 minutes to meet the standard for the 2013 Canadian Outdoor Championships -- the second step along the road to the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, Russia, will have his attention.

The world championships “B” standard of 28:05 may be enough to get Ahmed to Moscow, but to ensure his eligibility, he will need to hit the “A” standard of 27:40.

“This will probably be the fastest 10K of the year outside of the world championships, and it may produce the fastest 10K time of the year,” Ahmed said. “I have the opportunity to run a really fast time. I’m really excited for that.”

If he can secure the “A” standard -- as his lifetime-best run of 27:34.64 last spring did for the Olympics -- Ahmed would need only to finish in the top three at next month’s Canadian championships to earn a spot on Canada’s team for the world championships in August.

That chase, in fact, is what brought him to Eugene. After returning from Poland and his 22nd-place finish at the world cross country championships in late March, Ahmed plotted his outdoor season. In need of a fast race to chase the “A” standard, he and UW assistant coach Mick Byrne saw two options, either the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational in late April in Palo Alto, Calif., or the Prefontaine Classic.

“Payton Jordan and Eugene were the only options, and I didn’t know if I’d be ready for Payton Jordan,” Ahmed said. “It’s hard to get back in shape that quick.”

Instead of taking another run on Stanford’s track in Palo Alto -- at the same meet in which he set his lifetime best and toppled the Big Ten record -- Ahmed set out to find a way into the Pre Classic in order to give himself an extra month of training.

“We asked the organizers if there was an opportunity,” Ahmed said. “They came back to us and said, ‘Yes, we have a spot for you.’”

The competition will be held at Hayward Field, which also serves as the home of next week’s 2013 NCAA Outdoor Championships. That’s where the Badgers will chase another strong team finish without Ahmed, who helped put UW on the podium in cross country (second place) and indoor track (third) this year. By redshirting the outdoor season, Ahmed will give himself a full year of eligibility -- indoor and outdoor -- for his final campaign in 2014.

The Badgers’ success so far this outdoor season is another reason Ahmed feels momentum heading into the Pre Classic.

“It’s been a motivation for me,” he said. “Last week when my training partners, Mav (Maverick Darling) and Reed (Connor), and the milers did so well at the regional, it was very motivational.

“I’m going to be pulling for them.”

Personally, success at Hayward Field would be nothing new to Ahmed. As a freshman, he finished fourth in the 10,000 meters at the 2010 NCAA Outdoor Championships to earn his first All-America honor. The following year, he was third in the 5000 meters when Oregon hosted the 2011 NCAA West Preliminary Round at the historic venue.

The competition, of course, takes a step up this time around. But Ahmed says that won’t change his approach.

“With how well my training has gone up to this point, I feel like I can run with anybody,” he said. “I have so much respect for them, and I’m not going to be cocky, but I think I can run with them.”

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