Nairobi – Africa’s fastest man Ferdinand Omanyala on Thursday said he would compete in the World Athletics Championships in Oregon after being granted a last-minute visa to travel to the United States.
Omanyala – the third-quickest man in the world this season – will have just a few hours rest after his flight before the 100 metre heats start Friday in Eugene, Oregon.
But the 26-year-old Kenyan sprinter said he would be on the next plane and was “positive” of competing at the fixture 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”.
He had earlier given up hope of competing after failing to receive a visa, saying there wasn’t enough time to fly to Oregon — a journey of 24 hours or more – before the race.
But he will make the trip and arrive on Friday morning after being presented with his visa at the sports ministry, Omanyala’s coach Duncan Ayiemba told AFP.
“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,” he said.
The Kenyan team had been due to leave for the United States in two batches on Monday and Tuesday, but several members including Omanyala did not receive visas.
There was no immediate comment from Athletics Kenya, and the reasons for the visa hitch are not known.
Reports have emerged of athletes from other countries facing issues obtaining US visas, although Omanyala is the highest-profile.
Championship organisers Oregon22 and World Athletics had said on Wednesday 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.
Omanyala is the third-quickest man in the world this season behind Americans Fred Kerley and Trayvon Bromell, setting a time of 9.85 seconds in May.
In September last year, he 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.
If he had made the podium there, it would have been an historic first for an African runner.
Namibia’s Frankie Fredericks twice won Olympic silver in the 100m in the 1990s, but his one gold and three silvers in the World Championships were all over 200m.
‘Want to leave a legacy’
The young athlete and his coach have been mapping out ways to make sprinting more popular in Kenya, the East African country where the long-distance runner is king.
Omanyala became the first Kenyan sprinter to reach an Olympic semi-final at the Tokyo Games last year.
He was able to represent Kenya in Tokyo after Athletics Kenya relaxed a decision to prohibit any banned athletes from taking part in international competitions.
He had been suspended for 14 months in 2017 by the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya after testing positive for a banned substance.
“It was a hard 14 months but life has to move on,” Omanyala said in the AFP interview.
Hailing from western Kenya, Omanyala said he hoped to be a role model for other aspiring sprinters both at home and across Africa.
“I believe I opened the way for so many people coming behind me,” he said. “One of the things that I wanted to do is to leave a legacy. I want to leave an industry of sprint in Kenya.”
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.