Varsity - The Official Digital Magazine of Wisconsin Athletics

Varsity - November 17, 2011

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MEN'S CROSS COUNTRY P ressure can manifest itself in many ways for elite athletes. "Pressure,'' Mohammed Ahmed said, "is opportunity.'' "Pressure,'' Maverick Darling said, "is knowing that everyone is looking to you to win.'' That would cover expectations as a team and/ or an individual. Pressure can translate into other things, too. "Sometimes it's a motivating factor,'' Ahmed said. "Sometimes it's that last energy that gets into you once you start the race. It's all about how you use it. I hope we use it the best we can.'' Ahmed and Darling are two links in the chain that makes up the UW men's cross country team. Going into Monday's NCAA champion- ship meet, the Badgers are ranked No. 1 in the nation. Pressure? "Not at all,'' said Darling, a junior from Ovid, Mich. "We know this is not our meet. On paper we are not the team to beat. We know Oklahoma State is the team to beat. They bring everybody back.'' The Cowboys have won back-to-back titles. "It's just a number,'' Darling said of being No. 1. "It's not like football where the No. 1 ranking actually means something at the end of the year. "It's all about that one day, and doing it on that one day.'' The target date would be Monday in Terre Haute, Ind., where the Badgers finished third behind Florida State and Oklahoma State in last season's NCAA championship. Considering that Ahmed was 12th and Dar- ling was 13th in the 2010 race โ€” thereby earn- ing All-America status โ€” to what degree will the pressure be self-induced for both runners? "Everyone on this team has a job going into this meet,'' Darling said. "We all know what it is โ€” it's to be in the Top 20 or Top 25 individually. "I guess that's self-induced pressure knowing 42 ยป VARSITY NOVEMBER 17, 2011 "Instead of one guy thinking the race through for himself, it's five guys help- ing each other through the thinking pro- cess," coach Mick Byrne said. "Ultimately, the bottom line is that they just want to win. It's all about the team.'' that you'd better be in that Top 25 or you're going to screw up your part of the puzzle.'' Ahmed says that self-induced pres- sure is "what you want to accom- plish; what you see yourself as doing'' as opposed to the pressure that an in- dividual might feel carrying on the pro- gram's legacy. Or what Ahmed called, "The pride of running for the Bad- gers.'' Did he see himself winning the Big Ten cross country title? "The thought came up,'' said Ahmed, a junior from St. Catharines, Ontario. "I wasn't surprised that I won. I've worked extremely hard. I've never worked this hard in my life. I'm very confident. "I've been en- joying every single second of running for the past three years, especially last year, es- pecially this season since I started training for cross country. "I wasn't surprised I was the individual champ, but I really didn't care if someone else won.'' That selflessness runs through Ahmed, Dar-

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