India’s World U20 silver medalist in race walking Amit Khatri had to deal with some uncertainty before the 11-member Indian squad, that he is part of, boarded a flight to Muscat, Oman, on Wednesday. The Indian delegation is set to take part in the World Athletics Race Walking Team Challenge, starting this Friday.
Since Haryana’s 20-year-old Khatri got his second COVID-19 vaccine on February 25, his entry into Muscat was doubtful. Visitors to Muscat are allowed to enter the country only if the gap between their second COVID-19 vaccine and date of entry is, at least, 14 days.
However, timely intervention by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) meant that the issue was sorted out with the government of Oman.
Khatri will compete in the men’s 10km race walk on Friday. According to the youngster, he received his second jab of COVID-19 vaccine last week. As per the existing protocols, the local authorities denied him permission to travel to Muscat and compete at the World Athletics Race Walking Team Challenge.
“I was on the verge of missing the 2022 season’s first exposure tour, but timely support from the government enabled me to board a flight to Oman Wednesday morning.”
It will be an important event for the Indian race walkers who are participating. One of them explained how tough the challenge will be in coming days.
“Since several competitors are aiming to achieve the Eugene World Athletics Championships qualification standard in Oman, the competition will be tough.”
World Athletics Race Walking Team Challenge: Chinese wall
At the prestigious event in Oman, Khatri will face a stiff challenge from Chinese race walkers in the U20 men's 10km category.
The formidable Chinese delegation includes Kong Xianglong, Wang Hongren, and Zeng Yu. All three of them have broken the 40-minute barrier in 10km race walk. Xianglong, among them, is considered the fastest over 10km and is seen as the favourite.
While Khatri's personal best is 40 minutes and 28 seconds, he clocked 42:17:94 at Nairobi's high altitude last year to win a silver medal at the World U20 event. It is assumed that at sea level, Khatri could clock a better time.
Kenya’s World U20 champion Heristone Wanyonyi is also in the fray and is eagerly looking ahead to enhancing his profile by winning another medal.
World Athletics Race Walking Team Challenge: Oman’s weather
Oman’s warm and humid climate will be the competitor's biggest challenge, especially in longer race walking events like 20km and 35km. India’s two-time Olympian Sandeep Kumar exuded confidence about performing well in Oman.
“I’m enjoying good fitness. I have been in the national camp since October in Bengaluru. I shall be able to give my best during the competition.”
Kumar is the national record holder in men’s 20km race walking event. He is expected to face a stiff challenge from Spanish and Japanese runners and, of course, Italian Olympic champion Massimo Stano.
Several European athletes, including Spain's Alberto Amezcua, have recently clocked 1:20:29 in the 20km race walk. This indicates that the race could be challenging.
In the women’s 20km race walking category, China is supposed to be the strongest in the field, having athletes like world record holder Yang Jiayu.
China dominated the 2018 World Race Walking Team Championships. The event in Muscat will be another platform for them to showcase their potential.
World Athletics Race Walking Team Challenge: Spanish Armada
Going by the recent performances of top Spanish race walkers in the men's 35km event, they could dominate again. Spain’s Miguel Angel Lopez has a world-leading time of 2:27:53, which he clocked in January. Compatriot Alvaro Martin too has a time of 2:29:59 to his credit.
China's 23-year-old He Xianghong also has an impressive time of 2:31:05 which he registered in January this year.
India’s Chandan Singh is one of the competitors in the men’s 35km event. Singh expressed his view of the competition in a chat over the phone from Oman on Wednesday.
“The field is stacked and anyone can spring a surprise.”
India’s national record holder in women’s 20km race walking, Priyanka Goswami, will compete at the women's 35km.
China’s 20 years old Wu Quanming has the fastest time of 2:43:25 - an Asian record - in the women’s 35km.
The 10km races in men and women’s group are scheduled for the opening day of the event, on Friday. The women's 20km race will be conducted on the evening of the same day. The 35km event is scheduled for Saturday. The men's 20km Final will be in the evening later that day.