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Omanyala heads to world athletics as organisers cope with US visa issues


Nairobi (AFP) – Africa’s fastest man Ferdinand Omanyala on Thursday secured a last-minute visa to travel to the United States for the World Athletics Championships although he will have to start his 100m campaign just hours after arriving.

Another African sprinter, Gift Leotlela, a semi-finalist in the 100m at the Tokyo Olympics, posted on social media that he was heading to Eugene, Oregon after delays, suggesting he was one of a group of South Africans flying at the last minute from Italy. 

“Been a frustrating few weeks heading up to the champs but we finally going although some of us are going to arrive on the day we racing,” he posted on Instagram, giving his location as Venice airport.

Jamaican 400m runner Gregory Prince also resolved his visa issues only at the last moment, reported the Jamaica Daily Gleaner. 

Championship organisers, Oregon22 and World Athletics, said that they were working to follow up on visa applications “the majority of which have been successfully resolved”.

“We continue to follow up with those outstanding visa issues,” they said in a statement, noting that international travel had become more challenging due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Michael Johnson, who won eight world championship gold medals in 200m, 400m and relay, retweeted that statement with the comment: “pitiful & shameful.” 

The men’s 100m opens with a preliminary round on Friday morning in Eugene. The first round of heats is in the evening.

Omanyala — the third-quickest man in the world this season — will have just a few hours rest after his flight before running.

“He will have a few hours to rest before he competes in the 100m heats, and hopefully qualify for the semi-finals and the finals,” Omanyala’s coach Duncan Ayiemba told AFP.

The 26-year-old Kenyan sprinter said he would be on the next plane and was “positive” of competing at the worlds after securing permission to travel.

“Visa challenges are faced by all Kenyans and people daily, in this case I was no different,” Omanyala said in a statement posted on his Twitter account headlined “Oregon Here I Come”.

The Kenyan team had been due to leave for the United States in two batches on Monday and Tuesday, but Omanyala was one of several members who did not receive visas in time.

Omanyala set a time of 9.85 seconds in May. Only Americans Fred Kerley and Trayvon Bromell have run faster this year.

In September last year, Omanyala set a new African record of 9.77sec, making him the ninth-fastest man ever, behind four Americans and three Jamaicans.

He told AFP in a recent interview he had set his sights on at least reaching the final of the 100m in Oregon, targeting a time of 9.6sec.

Omanyala is also competing at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham later this month, he said in a statement Thursday.

“Looking forward to making all Kenyans proud,” he said.

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