Feeling as sharp as he has all season despite a relatively light race schedule, Canadian distance runner Mo Ahmed enters Friday's Diamond League final in Brussels with one goal.
"More than anything, I just need a win," says Ahmed, who has never won gold or silver in a Diamond League race. "If I can, it's going to give me confidence that it could happen again and I would try to emulate that.
- Aaron Brown narrowly misses podium at Weltklasse Zürich
"I've beaten the top guys in the world but not recently."
Ahmed, 27, will part of a 12-man field in the 5,000-metre race at 3:22 p.m. ET, vying for the $50,000 US top prize and coveted Diamond Trophy at the AG Memorial Van Damme in Belgium, where 16 disciplines will be contested.
Sixteen other athletes were crowned champions Thursday in the first leg of the Diamond finals at Weltklasse Zürich.
Since placing fifth last Aug. 24 in Zurich, the Somalian-born, St. Catharines-Ont.-raised Ahmed has raced the 5,000 just four times, highlighted by a narrow victory at the Canadian championships and a silver-medal performance at the Commonwealth Games, where he also placed second in the 10,000.
Watch Mo Ahmed's silver-medal run at Commonwealth Games:
Along the way, Ahmed has been in the gym three times a week and running 80 to 100 miles weekly as part of a gruelling strength training program under the watchful eye of renowned coach Jerry Schumacher at the Portland-based Bowerman Track Club.
"I had zero races entering the Commonwealth Games and [I excelled in] both races there," says Ahmed, who will conclude his competitive season at the Continental Cup Sept. 8-9 in Ostrava, Czech Republic. "We've been running at altitude for a full month and our training is harder than races.
"We cover strength, speed and mileage, and when you cover everything, you become a better athlete."
Ahmed singles out the 5,000 final at the 2016 Olympics in Rio as one of the races that has provided him "a little more motivation and force you to grow up more."
He went out with the elite runners in Rio and had to settle for fourth place in 13:05.94, falling just shy of his 13:01.74 Canadian record and less than two seconds off a bronze medal.
"The margin for error is very, very small," says Ahmed. "The top six or seven guys in the world, their PBs [personal best] are within seconds of each other. When everybody is that kind of equal, it's just positioning, foot speed and navigating through traffic on the track."
At Weltklasse Zürich a year ago, the Canadian-record holder in the 3,000, 5,000 and 10,000 exchanged the lead for nearly half the race with legendary British runner Mo Farah, who took the lead for good at the bell lap, while Ahmed was awarded fifth place following the disqualification of American Paul Chelimo.
"The only thing I told myself this year was to get comfortable rubbing elbows with [the top] guys," he says. "At times, I have probably questioned whether I belong with them and now I can definitely say I do. I have forced myself to go to the front [in races], stick it out and see what happens and I'll try to continue to do that.
"The tactical misses and not being fully prepared or at my peak in training are the only things holding me back."
Here are the three other Canadians competing Friday:
Shawn Barber, men's pole vault (1:28 p.m. ET): Barber, 24, failed to reach the podium at eight Diamond League meets but did jump a solid 5.71 metres in London on July 21. The 2018 Canadian champion jumped 5.85 in Poland on Aug. 17 and on Wednesday set an indoor season best of 5.86 to place second at an exhibition event at Zürich's main railway station ahead of Thursday's final.
Mike Mason, men's high jump (1:45 p.m. ET): Mason, 31, is coming off a second-place finish at the Müller Grand Prix in Birmingham, where he jumped 2.30 metres, following his 2.28 showing at the NACAC championships earlier this month. The three-time Olympian's season best is 2.32.
Christabel Nettey, women's long jump (1:08 p.m. ET): The 27-year-old from Surrey, B.C., returned on Aug. 18 after a month-long absence from exhaustion to jump 6.54 metres in Birmingham (her season best is 6.92). Nettey placed fifth (6.46) three years ago at her Diamond League final debut in Zurich.
Intriguing international matchups
Men's 100 (2:54 p.m. ET): This race is shaping up as an epic battle as Ronnie Baker (world-leading 9.87 seconds, four Diamond League wins) facing, among others, fellow American Michael Rodgers (9.89 season-best), Akani Simbine (9.93 SB), Reece Prescod and Christian Coleman.
Watch the latter run 9.94 on Aug. 18 in Birmingham to beat Prescod in a photo finish:
Women's 1,500 (2:41 p.m. ET): American Shelby Houlihan enters her first-ever Diamond League final undefeated outdoors in a season that includes wins at the Prefontaine Classic and in Lausanne (personal-best 3:57.34). Co-favourite Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands has raced well of late but could be in tough as she doubles back from Thursday's 5,000 Diamond final in Zurich.