Australian runner Peter Bol captured the hearts of millions when he qualified for the Olympic 800m final years after fleeing war-torn Sudan as a child.
He was held up as an example of immigrants enriching Australia with his story of spending four years in a hell-hole refugee camp in Egypt.
But hours before he races for gold at 10.05pm on Wednesday (AEST), Bol has revealed this part of his story is grossly misunderstood.
‘Despite what some people have said and written, we never lived in a refugee camp,’ he wrote in a column for The West Australian.
Australian track star Peter Bol is ready to bring home a gold medal in the 800m final at the Tokyo Olympics
Bol revealed part of his dramatic origin story is grossly misunderstood: ‘Despite what some people have said and written, we never lived in a refugee camp’
‘People familiar with my story have probably heard it enough times but, as I am so proud of my journey, I will 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 much memories from back home in Sudan, there was a civil war at the time and we made a move to Egypt to come through to Australia,’ he said in 2016.
‘[In] Egypt, I just remember always being with my family, it was still a bit difficult to be in, it was a bit tough over there to live. It wasn’t all good memories.
‘We came to Australia for the obvious reason – Australia is one of the best countries in the world… I have been around a few countries and Australia is the best country to be in so my family definitely made the right choice.’
Bol is eternally grateful to his high school teacher Helen Leahy, who encouraged him to pursue a career on the track
The Sudanese-born middle distance runner is in the form of his life ahead of the 800m final at the Tokyo Games
Bol still feels that way 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 whole nation behind me,’ he wrote. ‘The only energy is good energy, I am ready.’
Bol and his family arrived in Australia in 2004, settling in Queensland before moving to Perth where he took up a basketball scholarship from St Norbert College.
The teenager just wanted to shoot hoops but his teacher Helen Leahy spotted his running talent at the sports carnival.
‘She saw a talent and provided an opportunity to a boy who had talent, but needed guidance,’ he wrote.
Ms Leahy convinced him to join the school athletics club and promised to find him a a mentor and a coach.
‘I thought it was a pretty good deal specially because it meant I’d be fitter for basketball, so I agreed and she delivered,’ he told Athletics Australia.
Ms Leahy’s father Brian Moore soon sponsored his training and development, and became ‘one of my greatest mentors’ who he thinks would be proud of his Olympic achievement if he was still alive.
Aged 19, Bol won the national junior 800m title in 1:48.90 and shaved that time down to 1:45.41 within three years.
Australian Peter Bol (pictured in yellow) qualified second fastest for the final of the 800m at the Tokyo Olympics
Bol has also clarified incorrect reports he spent time living in a refugee camp with his family after fleeing his native Sudan
In 2015 he travelled to Europe for the first time to compete, and met an uncle in Paris he had not seen in many years, learning more about his big Sudanese family.
Another figure he considers family is fellow Australian 800m runner Joseph Deng, whom he calls his ‘brother’ and credits him with pushing him to Olympic glory.
A disappointing Rio Olympics in 2016 saw Bol place sixth in his heat, but he bounced back the next year, trimming his personal best even more – only to miss the Commonwealth Games because of a stress fracture in early 2018.
Since then, he has focused on Tokyo and becoming the fastest Australian ever over 800m, with his best result coming in Monaco last year with a time of 1:44.96.
Until Sunday night, when he ripped up the form books with his sensational semi-final run of 1:44.11 – an Australian record and second-fastest qualifying time.
It was Deng’s record that he broke, having seen his former best time eclipsed by his great friend in 2018.
‘When Joseph broke it, we agreed to keep it in the family for as long as we could. 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 male to reach an 800m Olympic final in 53 years
If Bol can replicate that performance in Wednesday’s final, he is every chance of claiming a spot on the podium.
‘I put myself in the best position to qualify,’ he told Channel Seven post race. ‘Even if I didn’t, I would have been happy with it.
He added: ‘I went to Europe for three weeks and raced 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 third I said to [manager James Templeton and coach Justin Rinaldi] that I think we can win a medal (in Tokyo).’
The 800m men’s final starts at 10.05pm AEST.