Best of 2021: Ahmed and Dunfee thrill with long distance breakthroughs

Our Best of 2021 series recaps the incredible performances by Canadian athletes over the past year. Check out the full list here.

Mohammed Ahmed and Evan Dunfee had both come heartbreakingly close to the podium at Rio 2016, each posting fourth-place finishes in the 5000m and 50km race walk, respectively.

After proving they could win medals at the world championships, neither man was about to let another opportunity at an Olympic medal elude them again.

Here are their stories of perseverance from 2021:

Canadian distance runner Mohammed Ahmed competes in the first round of heats in the Men’s 5000m during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Tuesday, August 03, 2021. Photo by Mark Blinch/COC *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Ahmed’s first race of Tokyo 2020 gave us an inkling that something incredible could happen on the Olympic track. In the 10,000m, he patiently passed through the pack until with 600m to go he made the gutsy move to take the lead. He was unable to hold it and ended up in sixth place, but with his best event still to come, he had all of Canada on high alert.

When it came time for the 5000m final, we were set to watch history be made. No Canadian had ever won an Olympic medal in a long distance track event. After spending most of the race in the middle of the pack, Ahmed produced a burst of speed on the final lap and got himself across the line for silver.

READ: Ahmed’s smooth running and final kick lead to Tokyo 2020 silver

READ: Ahmed wins Canada’s first ever Olympic 5000m medal at Tokyo 2020

Evan Dunfee competing in the 50km race walk
Evan Dunfee, of Canada, competes in the men’s 50km race walk at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021, in Sapporo, Japan. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

For the latter half of the 50km race walk, Dunfee had been right there with the chase pack. But he couldn’t quite find that next gear he needed to make his move. After close to four hours of walking and just a kilometre from the finish line, Dunfee’s body cooperated, and he passed competitors who looked to have left him behind. As he reeled in the last man to stand between him and the podium, Dunfee made a lot of Canadians new fans of the longest athletics events as he won the country’s first ever Olympic medal in the 50km race walk.

READ: Dunfee ‘over the moon’ after Olympic 50km race walk bronze

READ: Dunfee wins historic 50km race walk bronze at Tokyo 2020

It has already been announced that the 50km race walk will not be included on the Olympic program at Paris 2024. That led Dunfee to recognize his medal moment as “bittersweet”.

However, we’ll never forget how sweet it was to witness these two great athletes finally get their moment in the Olympic spotlight.