By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Jul 27, 2012 at 11:00 AM

Eight years ago, the Summer Olympics returned to its origins – Greece. The shot put was held in Olympia, site of the ancient games. The archery competitions were held in the historic Panathenaic Stadium, host of the 1896 games and first modern Olympiad. And of course the marathon re-traced the original route from Marathon, Greece, to the gates of the Panathenaic.

If there were to be any Olympic Games to capture the imagination of a teenager, it would’ve been those of the XXVIII Olympiad.

Such was the case for Mohammed Ahmed, a 13-year-old in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, a city of about 400,000 located just off the shores of Lake Ontario and along the Niagara River. It’s only 41 miles to Buffalo, N.Y. and less than 15 miles from the United States border.

Today, as the 2012 Summer Olympic Games open in London, England, that inspired young boy is competing for Canada in the 10,000-meter run. He is also representing Wisconsin, as Ahmed is a three-time All-American for the defending NCAA cross country champion University of Wisconsin Badgers and will return for his senior season this fall.

"I still feel like the same person," Ahmed told before departing for London. "The only thing that has changed is another name into my accomplishments and a lot of media calls. That’s the only thing that is different, but besides that I really haven’t had the chance yet. It’s surreal. I kind of approach it as another race. I don’t put it on a pedestal. Yes, it is the pinnacle of all sports, so it’s very big and I’m honored and I’m excited to compete there, but once I’m there in London and I’m at the village and I’m about to compete that’s really when it’ll all sink in."

Ahmed qualified for the Olympics in June when he won the 2012 Canadian Olympic Trials in Calgary with a time of 30 minutes, 49.13 seconds. He met the Olympic qualifying time at the Payton Jordan Invitation in Palo Alto, Calif., in April when he ran 27:34.64.

"The reason why I got into running was because of the Olympics," Ahmed said.

"I watched it in 2004 and I was very, very excited. I was motivated by that and inspired. I told myself I wanted to try track and field and as I got better and better in the sport I was told ‘Hey, you can actually go to the Olympics.’ I was like ‘Alright, 2012 is your goal.’ It didn’t seem realistic to many people but to me, it did. I competed at the junior levels, I’d been on nine junior teams in Canada. With all that experience I told myself ‘why not?’ I put in a lot of training and a lot of hard work, so why not? That’s pretty much it. That was the goal this year and I would have been very disappointed if I didn’t."

Ahmed came to UW by way of Canada, where he moved at the age of 11 from Mogadishu, Somalia. He picked up distance running shortly after watching the 2004 games, and in high school he participated in the 2009 Pan American Junior Championships for Canada. Now, at the age of 21, he will compete in his first Olympics.

The 10K will be run on Aug. 4, and Ahmed will compete against not only defending 10K gold medalist and world-record holder Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, but Wisconsin alumnus and two-time Olympian Matt Tegenkamp.

"Obviously there are a lot of guys who are so much faster than me and so much better than me who have trained for this," Ahmed said. "I’m still a student-athlete. I have two full jobs. So there are guys whose whole job is basically to train. I’m not at that level yet. I can’t do everything correctly. I can’t be perfect in every aspect of training. I can’t go do altitude training and all that stuff."

Ahmed realizes his place in the Games, and hopes to set a new personal record. Where that places him in the race matters little.

"I’d like to run faster than what I’ve run and get a really good experience out of the way," he said. "I don’t want to put it on a pedestal and freak myself out. That’s what happens with a lot of people. I’m not really thinking about it too much. I’m just going to treat it as another race, go there and compete to the best of my abilities."

In an attempt to help Ahmed and his fellow track and field teammates to do that, he will miss today’s opening ceremonies as Canada has sent him to Germany for a final, intense, training session.

"That’s not normal, but you’ve got to try to make it feel as normal as you can," Ahmed said of flying from Chicago to London to Germany and then back to London in a span of 12 days. "That’s pretty much all I do. I get a lot of help from Team Canada. You just can’t let it affect your performance."

Ahmed plans to stay in London after the race, soak up the atmosphere and meet some family members from Somalia for the first time that resides in the city.

But for the young boy who dreamed of the Olympics and the young man who made it a goal to participate in them, he doesn’t think the weight of it all will truly set in until he’s back in Madison.

"It’ll take a couple more weeks after the Olympics, a couple more months maybe, to kind of sink in," he said. "I think the more people that call me an ‘Olympian’ and call me by that name I guess I’ll get used to it."

Several other athletes with Wisconsin ties will be joining Ahmed in London.

Here is a quick look at them:

Track and Field
Matt Tegenkamp (University of Wisconsin) will represent the United States and race against Ahmed in the 10,000-meter run.

Egle Staisiunate (Wisconsin) will represent Lithuania in the 400-meter hurdles.

Evan Jager (Wisconsin) will represent the United States in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

Gwen Jorgensen (Wisconsin), a Waukesha native now living in Milwaukee, will represent the U.S. in the triathlon.

Kristin Hedstrom (Wisconsin) will represent the U.S. in lightweight women's double sculls.

Grant and Ross James (Wisconsin), twin brothers, will represent the U.S. in the men's eight.

Megan Kalmoe (St. Croix Falls) will represent the U.S. in women's double sculls.

Elizabeth "Beezie" Madden, a Milwaukee native, will represent the United States in show jumping.

Michael McPhail (University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh), a Darlington native, will represent the U.S. in the 50-meter men's prone rifle.

Ben Provisor (Stevens Point) will represent the U.S. at 163 pounds in Greco-Roman.

Lauren Sesselmann (Green Bay), Notre Dame Academy alumna, will represent Canada as a defender.

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.