Muscat: This August the eyes of the world will watch as the Parade of Nations opens the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Amid the sea of flags carried into the Maracanã Stadium will be one somewhat lonely, but incredibly proud, man holding Oman’s standard aloft.
Meet the Sultanate’s sole Olympic torchbearer, Barakat Al Harthi, who broke into the Olympics following his victory at the Military World Games in South Korea in October last year. He sprinted to 100m victory in South Korea.
He bagged the Sultanate’s first gold in the competition with a record of 10.16 seconds, which qualified him for the greatest athletics contest on earth.
He will be flying the Oman flag as he is the only qualifier. Though there are chances that the Sultanate may get wild card entry in four other disciplines. The Oman Olympic Committee (OOC) was formed and recognised in 1982, and the Sultanate has competed in eight summer Olympics so far but has never captured a medal.
“As I am the only one from Oman so far, all eyes will be on me. I feel a lot of pressure that is why I have to do something special, and I am sure everyone in the country has pinned hopes on me to get a medal.”
But, the 27-year-old married man from Ibra says he is trying to set realistic goals for himself.
“I am not thinking of a medal now as the competition is tough. Initially, I will be fighting for my entry into the semis, that is my first dream. When I get into the semis, I have to think of the goal after that. If I think of the medal from now, I might end up nowhere and my coach also thinks that this is the best for me.”
Breaking into the Olympics was a massive success for Al Harthi and something he did not believe he would attain. “I had not hoped that I could make it to the Olympics because I was without a coach for the entire year before South Korea. During the time, I just trained myself very hard, practiced as much as I could. When I was in the United States, I had a coach there, John Smith, with whom I practiced and worked very hard.
After the United States, Al Harthi trained at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex in Oman, all by himself and only after South Korea, he got another coach- Yanko from Bulgaria.
“For me South Korea was a dream come true. However, I have to admit that I was extremely serious about it because my mother had passed away only a month before that and I wanted to give her a special tribute. I was upset but I wanted to make it happen and ever since I qualified, all I think of is Olympics.”
Oman is still hoping for wild card entries in shooting, swimming, horse riding and tennis, an official at the Oman Olympic Committee has confirmed. In tennis, Oman is relying on Fatma Al Nabhani, who currently ranks 367th in the world and has the challenge of breaking into the top 300 if she wants to qualify for the Olympics this year. Al Harthi’s entry into the athletics was just a chance. He was a footballer and played for a couple of clubs in Oman.
However, in 2006, when he was about 18 years old, his football coach advised him to try running after seeing his great speed.
“In football, sometimes I was running faster than the ball, so my coach asked me to do some running and I remember that in my first competition I came first. Later, I was sent to a training camp in Europe by the Oman Athletic Association.”
Although it was his last year at school and the final exams were about to take place, Al Harthi made a decision to join the training camp instead of staying back and giving the exams. That decision got him into some problems with his parents but later everything was sorted out.
Al Harthi has been training hard for Rio 2016. He has been training at a camp in Bahrain with his Bulgarian coach for four months now and in 12 days time, he will travel to Bulgaria for a few competitions and some practice, after which he will go to Cuba for a month’s time, as the weather in Cuba and Rio is almost similar.
Al Harthi will probably not come back to Oman because he wants to focus on Rio more than anything else now. “If I come back in the middle, I will get into my comfort zone, which is something I don’t want at the moment, I want to finish the training and compete for the Olympics before returning to my country.”