In a blur of motion, Mohammed al Abdulsalam takes a perfect line on a tricky corner at the go-kart track at the Oman Automobile Association, before streaking down the home straight to take the tape and victory in front of the cheering crowd.
The track in Seeb is used to similar scenes on an almost daily basis, but this time there was a difference. Mohammed was not navigating the bends in a go-kart, but skating round the track under his own steam on rollerblades taking part in the Oman Skate Championship, the first event of its kind in the Sultanate organised to harness the growing skate scene.
Crossing the finishing line, Mohammed dropped to the track, exhausted but elated after the gruelling 8km race. “It was so difficult because it was too long and hot,” says Mohammed, dripping with sweat and with a wide smile on his face.
“I didn’t count the laps, I just kept skating until they said it was time to stop. I just tried to enjoy my skating. I’m really so excited – and tired!”
Mohammed is no stranger to the sport, having been skating for almost four years, practicing in the park and around the beach, or even at home, basically wherever there’s enough space.
It turned out later that Mohammed didn’t win after all as he received some time penalties for crossing over the perimeter line while skating round the track and was overtaken in the final timings (for the record his time was a little over 25 minutes). Still, he seemed to enjoy the taking part, which is what really counted.
Mohammed certainly wasn’t the only one. More than 100 skaters turned up to compete in the event at the weekend, which was organised by Excellence Performance, a company set up to encourage Omani youth to take part in sports through events. They were responsible for the first ever Oman’s girls cross country race in Mussanah in October.
“When we spoke to the Ministry [of Sports Affairs] about getting a dedicated space for the kids to skate, they said to prove that there is demand and I think we have proved that today,” says Rashid Ibrahim al Kindi, founder and executive director of Excellence Performance.
“There is nothing for them in Oman. If you go to Natural Park [in Qurum] they are distracting families from having fun. They need their own space.
“With this event, we wanted to show that there is a need and also to give the kids a chance to have some fun in a safe environment.”
More than 81 rollerblade enthusiasts were on the starting line for the 8km race – eight laps of the go-kart track – while around 46 registered for the 3km fun race, including al Kindi’s daughter, Raned, who, at six years old, was one of the youngest competitors.
“I like to go fast,” she says, kitted out in her pink rollerblades [with stabiliser], complete with matching pink elbow and kneepads. Her mother says she’s told her not to go too fast. Raned completes the race without any mishaps.
Rollerblading, also known as inline skating, is not a new sport or trend in Oman but it’s certainly growing with a hardcore group in Muscat, who can often be seen practicing in places like Seeb, Al Khuwair and Amerat.
A bunch have even got together to form Oman Boys Skater (OBS), a group that also has female members and is dedicated to raising awareness of the sport in the Sultanate. The sport’s appeal extends beyond the capital to Sur and Samail.
Mohammed, 18, gracefully glides up to the rest area to check over his skates before the start. A student from Middle East College in Muscat, he’s a big skating fanatic, as is his friend Mazen. “I can get up to speeds of around 15kph,” he says.
These are not the old-style skates with two front and two rear skates that older readers might be familiar with, but sleek, streamlined inline skates with the wheels arranged in a single row, originally developed for use by a Russian ice skater while training on solid ground for Olympic long track speeding events. Mohammed’s pair cost RO30, but prices can soar to more than RO200 for skates designed for speed or tricks. “I love the sense of freedom when you skate,” says Mohammed. “You feel free. It’s amazing.”
Age, it seems, is no hindrance to being a skater either, with 40-year-old Assim al Rashdi taking his place on the track alongside much younger competitors.
“I haven’t done any skating for a while, so I was acting as a beginner,” he says after finishing the 8km.
“I really enjoyed it. Everyone kept calling me ‘uncle’ and they respected me.”
Unlike the younger skaters, Assim hasn’t even broken sweat.
“Some people here said, ‘He doesn’t know how to skate’, but it was harder for them.
“I do cycling long distance, so I’m used to endurance. I go out on the bike twice a week and I also go to the gym. I don’t even feel tired.”
Also out with something to prove was Balqees, who wanted to show that girls can be top skaters.
“Skating is my life,” she says. “I started when I was five. I used to skate for fun and then about four years ago, it became serious.”
Balqees, 17, is a member of OBS and says proudly: “I can skate as good as the boys.”
There have been falls – she broke a hand – but shrugs it off, saying: “You have to fall to learn to get up. It’s dangerous but you just have to practice, just like any sport.”
Her passion is trick skating; skating through small cones, which is a test of skill, precision and balance.
“We hope this will encourage the sport,” says Ahmed, a fellow member of OBS. “We want to show the government that we really need a skate park.”
Judging by the success of this event, they should get their wish soon.