Crazy-fast Canucks: Ahmed 3rd in Olympic-calibre 5,000m, Knight 5th

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Canada's Moh Ahmed finished behind Ethiopia's Hagos Gebrhiwet and Norway's Jakob Ingebrigsten in Thursday's 5,000-metre race at the Diamond League meet in Florence, Italy. (Twitter/@AthleticsCanada - image credit)
Canada's Moh Ahmed finished behind Ethiopia's Hagos Gebrhiwet and Norway's Jakob Ingebrigsten in Thursday's 5,000-metre race at the Diamond League meet in Florence, Italy. (Twitter/@AthleticsCanada - image credit)

Canadian Moh Ahmed earned a third-place finish in the men's 5,000-metre race on Thursday at the Diamond League Golden Gala meet in Florence, Italy.

The 30-year-old native of St. Catharines, Ont., finished in a season-best 12 minutes 50.12 seconds behind Ethiopia's Hagos Gebrhiwet who was second in 12:49.02 and Norway's Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who posted a winning time of 12:48.45 to break a 21-year-old European record by Mohammed Mourhit (12:49.71).

"Today it was like winning a gold medal. It is pretty crazy," Ingebrigtsen said. "I was expecting a PB [personal best], because it has been two years since my last PB. I was most likely to run under 13 minutes, but this European record is incredible.

"Now I have to be able to win a medal, too. If I am able to win against the best runners, then I can also win at the [Tokyo] Olympics [this summer]. I am always excited to race. I did not expect this time and this record."

WATCH | Ahmed secures podium finish, Justyn Knight 5th:

Toronto native Justyn Knight was fifth, clocking a 12:51.93 PB in his first 5,000 since the world championship final on Sept. 30, 2019. It is the third fastest all-time among Canadian men behind Ahmed's 12:47.20 (July 10, 2020) and Thursday's performance.

The 24-year-old Knight, who didn't race in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, dipped under the 13:13.50 Tokyo Olympic standard with his previous PB of 13:09.76 from June 6, 2019 at the Golden Gala meet that was held in Rome that year. Thursday's competition was relocated to Florence since Stadio Olimpico in Rome is hosting European championship soccer matches this week.

'I knew I belonged in the race'

"Throughout the day I was very nervous for a lot of reasons but mostly because it was my first 5K in two years," Knight told CBC Sports. "I also knew that I've been working hard all year and wanted to showcase that.

"Once I got to the meet I instantly felt a lot calmer. I knew I belonged in the race and believed in myself."

Knight said he knew during training sessions in January and February he would run under 13 minutes this year.

"I had put in a lot of solid work," he said. "It became apparent in 2019 I would have to be a sub-13 guy to be a [medal] contender at the Olympics."

Knight, who ranked 15th in the world before Thursday's race, moved quickly off the start line and positioned himself two spots behind a pair of pacesetters after the first of 12 laps at Asics Firenze Marathon Stadium and remained near the front.

I think there's a lot of room for improvement. — Justyn Knight after running under 13 minutes for the 1st time in the men's 5,000 metres

"I'm most satisfied with being a part of the lead pack," said the former cross-country and track star at Syracuse University. "That was the perk of running [three] 1,500s [over the past four months]. I've been so used to getting out a lot quicker [in races]. I felt great for most of [Thursday's] race but the last three laps were tough.

"In prior years at this level I would always find myself in the chase pack. The most important thing is picking up intensity in those last four laps. That is something I will be focusing on next."

Knight added the three and a half second gap between him and Ingebrigtsen shows there is work to be done leading up to the Olympics to close the gap.

"I think there's a lot of room for improvement," said the Reebok Boston Track Club runner, "but not bad for my first 5K in a while."

Ninth-ranked Ahmed sat third for a lot of the race but grabbed the lead for a brief period with 600 metres remaining. The Bowerman Track Club athlete also led the 2019 world final with about 500 metres remaining, dropped to fifth position and climbed back to third on the straightaway at Khalifa International Stadium to earn a bronze medal in Doha, Qatar.

Last July in Portland, Ore., Ahmed lowered his Canadian record by 10 seconds to 12:47.20 at a Bowerman intrasquad meet. Only current world record holder Joshua Cheptegei, who was sixth on Thursday, has run faster since the start of 2020. Last month, Ahmed topped the field in 13:18.49 at the Sound Running Track Meet in Irvine, Calif.

Also Thursday, Gabriela DeBues-Stafford placed fourth in the women's 1,500 in 4:00.46, taking 23-100ths of a second off her season best. Ahead of the Toronto native was her former training partner in Scotland, Laura Muir of Great Britain, who was third in 3:55.59 behind Kenya's Faith Kipyegon (3:53.91).

Victorious Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands set a Golden Gala record of 3:53.63, topping her previous meet mark of 3:56.22 from 2017.

Quebec City native Jean-Simon Desgangés made his Diamond League debut on Thursday, finishing 13th in the 3,000 steeplechase in 8:39.47. On May 28, the 22-year-old ran a 8:24.40 PB at the Portland Track Festival to inch closer to the 8:22 Olympic standard.

WATCH | Hassan sets meet record in women's 1,500m:

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