That wispy cloud of euphoria that Mohammed Ahmed has been perched on for the better part of two weeks?
Not only is it gone, his feet are back on the ground, churning toward new endeavors.
A junior distance runner for the University of Wisconsin men’s track and field team, Ahmed is fresh off one of the most meaningful races of his career.
During the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational on April 29 in Palo Alto, Calif., Ahmed knocked history for a loop with his time of 27 minutes, 34.64 seconds in the 10,000 meters.
It obliterated the previous UW standard, set five years ago by Tim Nelson, by nearly 30 seconds (28.04.46).
It destroyed the Big Ten Conference outdoor record, set in 1976 by Craig Virgin of Illinois, by nearly 25 seconds (27:59.43) and removed the oldest league mark from the books.
Perhaps most notable is that it was the sixth-fastest clocking in the world this year — the five fastest were run by the five competitors who beat Ahmed on that Sunday night in Palo Alto — and surpassed the “A” qualifying standard for the Summer Olympic Games by just more than 10 seconds (27:45).
“The first five, six days I was still on a spiritual high, I guess you could say,” Ahmed said Tuesday of his breakthrough performance. “I was like on cloud nine.”
But that gave way to an expected bout with fatigue as his body recovered from the stress. That, in turn, set the stage for a gradual buildup to the Big Ten men’s and women’s outdoor meet, which runs Friday through Sunday at UW’s McClimon Track.
Ahmed is prepared to run one race — either the 10,000 or 5,000 — or both, depending on how UW coach Ed Nuttycombe and distance assistant Mick Byrne want to utilize the product of St. Catharines, Ontario, in pursuit of the program’s first outdoor title since 2007.
“Whichever one gives us the best chance of winning, that’s what I’m going to do,” Ahmed said. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes for the team.”
No matter the workload, Ahmed figures to be one of the most-watched participants in the Big Ten meet. It’s rare to have someone with bona fide Olympic credentials in the field, even though Ahmed still has a bit of work to do to make the Canadian team that will compete in London.
Ahmed, who moved to the Ontario area from Somalia when he was 11, now is shooting to finish among the top three when the Canadian Olympic Trials begin June 27.
The winner at the Payton Jordan meet, Southern Utah senior Cameron Levins, is also a Canadian. Ahmed may also have to contend with former Badgers standout Simon Bairu, the Canadian record-holder in the 10,000 who finished well back in Palo Alto and has yet to reach the “A” standard this competition year.
“He doesn’t have to do anything he’s not capable of doing,” Nuttycombe said of Ahmed.
Ahmed, a political science major, has won multiple national junior championships and helped UW claim the NCAA cross country title last fall with a top-five finish. But he acknowledged that his place in the distance running conversation probably changed during last month’s race.
“I guess now with the world stage, I’ve kind of arrived a little bit,” Ahmed said.
“It was a good accomplishment. I’m very happy about it. It’s just a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders. I’m thankful for the opportunity and the experience.”
There’s much work to do, though. Ahmed said his speed and strength levels must be improved if he wants to push the international envelope. He referred to his record-smashing effort as “not the greatest time, but a respectable time.”
Perhaps, but it put Ahmed in the same paragraph with the legendary Virgin, who won nine Big Ten track titles, an NCAA individual cross country title and is the only American male to qualify for three Olympics in the 10,000.
The record run also opened a lot of doors for Ahmed.
“It gives me the opportunity to compete at major international competitions,” he said, “and maybe bigger races in the future.”