Oh brother! Mohammed bids to time Daegu run

Ready to rumble: Mukhtar Mohammed can't wait for the the UK Championships.        Pictures: Alan Janaszek
Ready to rumble: Mukhtar Mohammed can't wait for the the UK Championships. Pictures: Alan Janaszek
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Timing is everything in sport.

Whether it’s the ball flying off the bat over the boundary rope or a sweetly struck half-volley billowing the net behind the goalkeeper, getting it just right can be the difference between success and failure.

Talent: Mukhtar Mohammed

Talent: Mukhtar Mohammed

There’s a different sort of timing, of course. It’s the type when you make your run perfectly. When the stars align in your favour and the moment becomes your moment.

Young Sheffield athlete Mukhtar Mohammed is at such a point in his career.

This weekend sees him take on the best of British in the 800 metres at the UK Championships, which also double as the trials for the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, later this summer.

A good run and qualification for the Far East suddenly puts the 20-year-old in the same conversation as superstars such as the city’s Jessica Ennis. With another year until the Olympic Games, Mukhtar could very quickly become more than just a name in his own household.

It’s a far cry from a summer of disappointment two years ago when he was released from his scholarship contract at Sheffield Wednesday.

Mukhtar, who lives in Parson Cross and is a former Abbeydale Grange student, said it took a conversation with his elder brother Mustafa to realise he could still make the most of his sporting talent.

He said: “When I got released by Wednesday, I was really gutted. I was thinking about playing for a different team to prove people wrong.

“But then my brother came up and said I can go and find teams or I can come running. Give it a shot. In my head I wanted to play football. He just kept pushing and pushing me (to try running). In the first month after I was released he used to tell me to go running. In my head it was all football. We had a sit down and a good talk. He said I will send you to a guy who will help you to progress to the next level.

“When you come back I will work with you again; you will be a good athlete. One of the best in the UK. The first trip was to Ethiopia for a month. Then to Qatar for a month and half.”

The ‘guy’ was Jama Aden, who is possibly the best middle-distance coach in the world. An old friend of Mustafa, Aden’s wife is from Sheffield and has lived in the city for 17 years until taking up a position as coach to the Qatar athletics team.

He quickly spotted Mukhtar’s potential and instilled a work-ethic that has slowly changed him from broken footballer into an international athlete.

“As a footballer, everyone used to hate running and all the hard work,” he said. “For me it was OK even in pre-season. Every pre-season I was strong so I was always in the team until the middle of the season, then I’d sometimes struggle. I used to take running as a part-time job. But when I quit from football my brother sent me abroad to Jama Aden. I started looking at it really differently. How they work and how they train and how serious they were.

“Athletics is really, really hard to keep at the limit. If you stop running for a while you have to start all over again. It’s not like football where it’s skills. There are no short-cuts, you have to be all in.”

Mukhtar arrived in Sheffield from Somalia with his family in 2002. For an aspiring sportsman the city was a perfect new home.

He said: “I train at Don Valley Stadium. They have really good facilities and I train with a good group of athletes.

“It was different to come here (to Sheffield). I remember when I went to school I thought to myself I’m going to struggle big time. I didn’t know English. I found some Somali friends who really helped me.

“My brother is a hard coach, he always wants more from me which is right. He pushed me to running. He said have a shot at running. He gave me all the support I need.”

And now he stands on the verge of making the World Championship qualifying time of 1.45:40 in Birmingham. First he has to battle through the heats on Friday, semi-final on Saturday and the final on Sunday.

Of his form, he said: “This season is going good. I’ve just come back from Ostrava in the European under 23 championships. It was my first race for Great Britain and I finished third. It was a good experience to run with a GB vest and to see new people.

“Last year I was ranked sixth; this year I’m ranked second. I have beaten my personal best twice and every time I race the aim is to finish top in my event. All the best in the UK are running at the trials. I really need to do well.”