Canada’s award for the top athlete of the year, the Lou Marsh Trophy, was given this week to Alphonso Davies, a soccer player, and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a Super-Bowl-winning NFL guard, who gave up his 2020 season to practice medicine during the pandemic. There’s some debate online that the NFLer only got the award because he skipped his season to go be a doctor, and the award is supposed to be for athletic prowess. I agree, LDT should not have won the Lou Marsh this year.. .but neither should Davies.
Canada’s real best athlete in 2020 is Mohammed Ahmed. And it’s not even close.
Look, Alphonso Davies is good at soccer. He’s playing in the big leagues, and making his country proud because normally Canadians aren't good enough to get a contract in Europe. He’s very young and likely has a great career ahead of him. But the voting committee missed a legendary performance by Moh Ahmed — a good Canadian kid from St. Catherine’s, Ont.; good in the corners; always giving 110%, oh, and he ran 12:47 for 5,000m, putting him 10th all-time at the distance (since then, a new world record was set, bumping him down to 11th).
The Davies supporters will say “he’s doing what no Canadian has ever done before! In a global sport!” Yeah, so is Moh, only Moh is doing it better. Every high school kid runs the 5K for cross-country. It’s the distance every beginner adult runs on the roads. Everyone runs. You can’t play soccer without running… And Moh did not only what no Canadian has ever done before, but what only ten other humans have ever done. Like, in history. On the planet Earth. And running as a sport has been around for a long time.
His 11th all-time performance puts him behind only such names as Bekele, Kipchoge and Gebrselassie. He’s ahead of “the other Mo” Farah, former world-record holder and multiple world cross-country champ Paul Tergat, as well as every Canadian and American ever. Every Brit, Australian, Italian, Moroccan, Algerian... Put it this way: only two Kenyans have ever run faster than Moh Ahmed over 5,000m. And one Ugandan and seven Ethiopians. That’s it. It’s also important to mention doping. We don’t know for sure, of course, but it’s highly possible, maybe even likely, that some of the performances ahead of Ahmed were achieved with a little pharmaceutical help. There was a training group in Oregon, since disbanded, that was under investigation for doping. But Moh and his coach Jerry Schumacher are beyond reproach.
A comparison of that performance to other race distances gives you a similar ranking: If you go by World Athletics points (an empirical scoring system that is also pretty reliable for predicting comparable outcomes at different distances), it's roughly the same as 3:28 (1,500m) or 26:40 (10,000m) or 58:30 (half-marathon), which would rank you about the same — 17th in the 1,500m, 14th in the 10,000m, eighth in the half-marathon. In the marathon the same number of points gets you 41st all-time, or 2:04:45, which is not much on the international scene right now, but that difference is probably due to the advances in road shoe technology (a 4% Vaporfly deduction from 2:04:45 would give Ahmed a... 2:01:46). But let that non-shoe-aided number sink in for a moment — 2:04:45 is still nearly five minutes faster than the Canadian record. That would mean that when Moh Ahmed crossed the finish line in this hypothetical marathon, current record holder Cam Levins would still be more than a mile down the road. Yes, Moh Ahmed is beating everyone in Canadian history by a mile.
Look at other sports and their all-time top 10 lists, and you get a sense of what it means to be Moh Ahmed.
We're talking about the Lou Marsh, an award Wayne Gretzky has won four times, so let’s go to hockey first. You can Google lots of lists, but the names that keep coming up around the 11th all-time mark: Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Roy...hmm. If basketball is more your thing, let’s throw out some names, in no particular order: Michael, Magic, Bird, Lebron, Kobe, Shaq, Wilt, Kareem, Scottie, Bill Russell, Hakeem, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry… I’m not a soccer guy (you can tell because I call it soccer), but a little research seems to show Ronaldo as a decent top 10 comparable. Not Ronaldo, sorry, Cristiano Ronaldo (there are two, just like the Mohs). So, Alphonso Davies, is he a Crosby? A Steph Curry? A Ronaldo (even the lesser one, who by the way, is maybe the greatest current player in the world, along with Lionel Messi)? Nah.
Oh, and as much as I’m obligated to stan for LDT because he’s a fellow McGill alum, Quebecer, and apparently good guy — the Lou Marsh isn’t a humanitarian award. As a football player, he was as important as players at his position are, to a championship team, I guess. But a top 10 all-time? Again...nah.
There’s precedent for giving the Lou Marsh to a runner: Donovan Bailey has won it. Ben Johnson won it twice (oops). Terry Fox was given the award in 1980. There have even been some distance runners, including Bruce Kidd (best 5k of 13:43...almost a minute slower than Moh, though to be fair it was a different era), BIll Cruthers (a world record holder in the 800m in the 60s) Gerard Coté (four-time winner of the Boston Marathon) and Phil Edwards ( five Olympic Bronze medals in the 4x400m, 800m and 1,500m). Moh Ahmed is at least on par with these runners, and head and shoulders above Alphonso Davies and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif in terms of his sporting accomplishments in 2020. But the sports writers who vote on this award don’t follow running, I guess. Maybe next year, if Moh comes home from Tokyo with a medal (he was fourth in Rio, and won a bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar) he’ll get the respect he already deserves. Maybe.