Australian runner Peter Bol captured the hearts of millions when he qualified for the Olympic 800m in recent years after fleeing war-torn Sudan as a child.
He was presented as an example of immigrants enriching Australia with his story of spending four years in a hellish refugee camp in Egypt.
But hours before he races for gold at 10:05 p.m. (AEST) on Wednesday, Bol revealed that this part of his story has been grossly misunderstood.
“Despite what some people have said and written, we have never lived in a refugee camp,” he wrote in a column for The Western Australian.
Australian athlete Peter Bol is set to take home a gold medal in the 800m final at the Tokyo Olympics
Bol revealed that part of his dramatic origin story is grossly misunderstood: ‘Despite what some people have said and written, we have never lived in a refugee camp’
“People familiar with my story have probably heard it often enough, but because I’m so proud of my journey, I’ll say it again.
“My family emigrated from Sudan to Egypt when I was four and it was our home for four years. Then it was to Toowoomba and Perth, Perth to Melbourne, airport to airport and athletics venue to athletics venue.”
The rest of his origin story, from fleeing war to a chance discovery of his talent at a school sports carnival, is all true – and life in Egypt was far from comfortable.
“I don’t have many memories of back home in Sudan, there was a civil war then and we moved to Egypt to get through to Australia,” he said in a statement. 2016.
‘[In] Egypt, I remember always being with my family, it was still a little hard to be there, it was a little hard to live there. They weren’t all good memories.
“We came to Australia for the obvious reason – Australia is one of the best countries in the world…I’ve been to a few countries and Australia is the best country to be in so my family definitely has the right ones made a choice.’
Bol is eternally grateful to his high school teacher Helen Leahy, who encouraged him to pursue a career on the job
The Sudanese-born middle distance runner is in the shape of his life for the 800 meters final at the Tokyo Games
Bol still feels that as he prepares to race for an Olympic medal in Tokyo, and is grateful for the support of his adopted country.
“I feel the support of the entire nation behind me,” he wrote. “The only energy is good energy, I’m ready.”
Bol and his family arrived in Australia in 2004, settling in Queensland before moving to Perth where he was awarded a basketball scholarship from St Norbert College.
The teen only wanted to shoot hoops, but his teacher Helen Leahy saw his running talent at the sports carnival.
“She saw a talent and offered an opportunity to a boy who had talent but needed guidance,” he wrote.
Mrs. Leahy convinced him to join the school’s athletic club and promised to find him a mentor and coach.
“I thought it was a good deal, mainly because it meant I would be fitter for basketball, so I agreed and she did it,” he told Athletics Australia.
Brian Moore, Mrs. Leahy’s father, soon sponsored his training and development, becoming “one of my greatest mentors” who he thinks would be proud of his Olympic achievement if he were alive.
At the age of 19, Bol won the national title in the junior 800m in 1:48.90 and reduced that time to 1:45.41 within three years.
Australian Peter Bol (yellow) qualified second for the 800m final at the Tokyo Olympics
Bol also cleared up false reports that he spent time with his family in a refugee camp after fleeing his native Sudan
In 2015, he traveled to Europe for the first time to participate in competitions, and met an uncle in Paris he hadn’t seen in many years, to learn more about his large Sudanese family.
Another figure he considers family is fellow Australian 800m runner Joseph Deng, whom he calls his ‘brother’ and credits him with the credit for pushing him to Olympic glory.
At a disappointing Olympics in Rio in 2016, Bol finished sixth in his heat, but bounced back the following year and improved his personal best even more – only to miss the Commonwealth Games due to a stress fracture in early 2018.
Since then, he has focused on Tokyo, becoming the fastest Australian ever in the 800m, with his best result last year in Monaco with a time of 1:44.96.
Until Sunday night, when he tore up the form books with his sensational 1:44.11 semi-final – an Australian record and second fastest qualifying time.
It was Deng’s record that he broke after being overshadowed by his best friend in 2018 from his past best time.
“When Joseph broke it, we agreed to keep it in the family as long as possible. I look forward to him coming for it because that’s how we work and that’s how we push each other,” he wrote on Wednesday.
Peter Bol, 27, is also the first Australian man to reach an Olympic 800m final in 53 years
If Bol can match that performance in Wednesday’s final, he has every chance of a podium place.
“I put myself in the best position to qualify,” he told Channel Seven after the race. “Even if I hadn’t, I would have been happy with it.
He added: ‘I went to Europe for three weeks and played two races; they weren’t the best in terms of positions, but they were the best for preparation.
“When I went to Gateshead and came in third, I said: [manager James Templeton and coach Justin Rinaldi] that I think we can win a medal (in Tokyo).’
The Men’s 800m Finals will begin at 10:05 PM AEST.