World Athletics President Sebastian Coe has welcomed the return of the World Race Walking Team Championships in Muscat this week, after the event was postponed in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking at the pre-event press conference, Coe said this was a key event for the elite race walkers of the world and it was important that it returned to the schedule this year, after it was first postponed in 2020 and then moved from Minsk last year.
“It’s been four years since we last delivered a World Race Walking Team Championships, so we’re delighted that Oman was able to step up and host this event, and I’d like to thank the organising committee,” said Coe, adding that the bidding race for the 2024 and 2026 editions of this event was currently open.
The competition in Muscat starts on Friday (4) with the U20 men’s and women’s 10km races in the morning, followed by the women’s 20km in the afternoon. It continues on Saturday (5) with the men’s and women’s 35km races in morning and the men’s 20km in the afternoon.
Coe said the event could be a great launching pad for Oman, both in terms of its capacity to host sporting events and for the development of athletics in the country.
“I think it’s an opportunity that will stand the sport of track and field athletics in Oman in good stead for many years. I know this nation is ambitious to stage other championships, and creating a track record of delivering events is very important.
“Race walking is at that inflexion point at the moment in the global agenda. Sustainability is a crucial aspect and is one that we take very seriously at World Athletics,” added Coe. “A couple of years ago we created our 10-year sustainability strategy, and it’s something we want to live by as an organisation. Race walking is not only one of the more sustainable sports – athletes in this discipline tend not to leave too much of a carbon footprint – but it is also one of the more accessible sports, as it doesn’t require heavy or expensive equipment to take part. The accessibility of this sport is one that is really important to us.”
Muscat will see the debut of the 35km as a championship event, after the new distance was included in the programme for this year’s World Athletics Championships Oregon22 (July 15-24), replacing the 50km.
“We welcome the 35km discipline to the competition programme for this event,” Coe said. “I know it had a complicated birth, but I genuinely do believe that this is the right way to go.”
Sheikh Salim Al Amri, President of the Oman Athletics Association, spoke with pride about hosting the event.
“Oman acquired the hosting of this event just last year, and I’d like to thank everyone involved for all of their efforts to make this event possible,” he said.
“We will have about 350 athletes from 46 teams attending these championships. We have selected an Omani team, and it’s the first time our country has participated at this event.
“The event will be broadcasted by more than 50 TV stations around the world, which will shine a light on Oman. By organising this event we hope to achieve economic, social and tourism benefits, and we hope this will open the door to hosting other sporting events in future.”
Spanish race walking legend Jesus Angel Garcia hung up his racing shoes last year after a long and illustrious career which ended at his eighth Olympic Games in Tokyo, but he was delighted to make a “comeback” at this event, this time as the official ambassador.
“I’d like to personally thank the city of Muscat and the Sultanate of Oman for stepping in to host this event,” said the 1993 world 50km champion. “For us race walkers it’s hugely important that the World Race Walking Team Championships continues and survives. After all the difficult years we’ve had, it was very important for us to be here in person, so thank you to everyone for making this possible and for hosting us.
“When World Athletics contacted me a few weeks ago to be an ambassador in Oman, I had already been asked to do live commentary for this event for Spanish TV, but I so desperately wanted to be here that I did everything I could to change my plans and make it possible.
“This is why I’m here; race walking has given me everything,” he added. “It has been 30 years of my life. It has given me a family. It has given me a job, financial stability. It’s the reason why I’m happy. It’s my passion; I’ve always wanted to compete as an athlete. It’s given me the opportunity to attend eight Olympic Games and 13 World Championships. This is where I belong.”
At the other end of the career spectrum, South American record-holder and global rising star Glenda Morejon is one of a number of athletes who’ll be making their debut over 35km this weekend.
“I’m doing the 35km here because Ecuador has a strong team and I want to be a part of that,” said 21-year-old Morejon, who will team up with the likes of Paola Perez and Magaly Bonilla – top-10 finishers over 50km at the 2019 World Championships – in the longer event on Saturday (5).
“It’s my first time racing this distance, so I just want to enjoy it and see what it’s going to take to finish the race. It’s something new, so I want to try it out. But I’m doing it for my country and for my team first and foremost. In future one day I’d like to double up in the 20km and 35km at a major event.”
A ‘how to follow’ guide to the championships will be published on the World Athletics website tomorrow.