SINGAPORE – After a year-long wait to compete at the World Athletics Under-20 Championships, national hurdler Marc Brian Louis is ready to make his debut at the meet in Nairobi, Kenya this week.

The 19-year-old was set to race in the 110m hurdles at the championships in July last year but it was postponed owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But the delay has not dulled the teenager’s ambition as he aims to rewrite the national Under-20 record for the 110m hurdles when he competes in te heats on Thursday (Aug 20).

Louis’ personal best of 13.91 seconds is below the current mark of 14.03sec, which was set by Chong Wei Guan at the International Amateur Athletic Federation U-20 Championships in 2018, but it was not recognised as the time was clocked at an exhibition race last year.

“I’m excited to run against the top Under-20 hurdlers from around the world,” said Louis, who is competing on a universality spot, in a phone interview from Nairobi.

“I want to do my best and learn from this experience.”

Louis and hurdles coach Rafiuddin Sawal have had to adhere to strict coronavirus protocols since arriving in the Kenyan capital on Sunday morning.

At the airport, they had to use a special lane for teams who are participating in the meet. Once they reached the hotel, they had to stay in their rooms until they were called to do their loop-mediated isothermal amplification (Lamp) test at another location. They had to remain in their rooms till the test results were out.

According to news website Inside the Games, World Athletics and the local organisers have built two “bubbles” in Kasarani and Nyayo Stadiums, as well as 10 hotel “bubbles” for teams, officials and suppliers for the event, which is held behind closed doors.

Rafiuddin said they try to avoid intermingling with athletes from other countries during the warm-up practices.

Louis, who holds the U18 national record, is aiming to make the final but knows that he will be up against some stiff competition.

The field in Nairobi includes European U-20 gold medallist Sasha Zhoya from France and Lorenzo Simonelli, Italy’s junior and senior indoor champion.

With the pandemic limiting the number of overseas meets, his coach Benber Yu has been getting training partners to simulate a competition setting. To get Louis used to racing against others who are quicker, they would give the runners a head start.

Louis, who in 2019 became Singapore’s first Asian youth champion in the 400m hurdles, has been training 18 to 24 hours a week and there was no rest for him even on his birthday on Aug 7.

“This will be a good experience for Marc because he’s been proving that he can do something and this is the highest competition at his age,” said Yu, who was unable to travel with Louis due to work commitments.

“By going there and experiencing competing among the best athletes in the world in this category, it will give him more motivation to work harder whatever the outcome of the competition and it will give him more drive to be an even better athlete in the future.”

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