Australia’s 800m Olympic hope Peter Bol fled Sudan spent years in a refugee camp in Egypt


Peter Bol was four years old when his family fled war-torn Sudan to a refugee camp in Egypt. 

After four long years in the squalor and poverty of the camp, his life changed forever when the family flew to a bright new future in Australia.

Fast forward 19 years and Bol is still running – for Australia…and faster than any Australian before him. 

On Sunday night, he left the rest of the field shaking in his wake as he won the semi final of the 800m track event in an Australian record time of 1:44.11.

Peter Bol fled war-torn Sudan to a refugee camp in Egypt before starting a new life in Australia. He won his semi-final of the 800m race on Sunday and is now a favourite for an Olympic medal

Peter Bol fled war-torn Sudan to a refugee camp in Egypt before starting a new life in Australia. He won his semi-final of the 800m race on Sunday and is now a favourite for an Olympic medal

A teacher at his school in Perth spotted Bol's potential as a runner after watching him compete in a cross country event at 16 and persuaded him to try more running

A teacher at his school in Perth spotted Bol’s potential as a runner after watching him compete in a cross country event at 16 and persuaded him to try more running

He cruised over the finishing line, even relaxing long enough to wag his finger in celebration, to become the first Aussie in 53 years to make an 800m Olympic final since Ralph Doubell won gold in Mexico City in 1968.

But he’s never forgotten the sensation of hope and relief he and his family felt when they stepped off the plane in Australia on arriving in 2002.

‘It was completely different, it was just nice, even the air was fresh and it was just a feeling – pretty much the same feeling if you just made it to the Olympics – a feeling of excitement,’ he admitted in 2016.

‘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.’

On Sunday night, Bol (pictured) left the rest of the field shaking in his wake as he won the semi final of the 800m track event in an Australian record time of 1:44.11

On Sunday night, Bol (pictured) left the rest of the field shaking in his wake as he won the semi final of the 800m track event in an Australian record time of 1:44.11

Bol (pictured) is the first Aussie in 53 years to make an 800m Olympic final since Ralph Doubell won gold in Mexico City in 1968

Bol (pictured) is the first Aussie in 53 years to make an 800m Olympic final since Ralph Doubell won gold in Mexico City in 1968

He added: ‘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.

‘[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.’

That all changed when he arrived in Australia, first in Queensland before moving to Perth and later to Melbourne.

But he only fell into the 800m by accident. 

Bole, 27 and 178cm, originally only ever wanted to be a basketballer.

A teacher at his school in Perth spotted his potential as a runner after watching him compete in a cross country event at 16 and persuaded him to take it seriously.

A teacher at his school in Perth spotted Bol's potential as a runner after watching him compete in a cross country event at 16 and persuaded him to try more running

A teacher at his school in Perth spotted Bol’s potential as a runner after watching him compete in a cross country event at 16 and persuaded him to try more running

Bole, (pictured crossing the line in first place) 27 and 178cm, originally only ever wanted to be a basketballer

Bole, (pictured crossing the line in first place) 27 and 178cm, originally only ever wanted to be a basketballer

Even then though, he only saw that as a way to improve his basketball abilities.

‘Shortly after an athletics school carnival, one of my teachers, Helen Leahy approached me and convinced me to join an athletics club,’ he told Athletics Australia. 

Ms Leahy promised to find him a club, 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.’

Since then he’s never looked back.

At 19, he won the national junior 800m title in 1:48.90 and shaved that time down to 1:45.41 within three years. A disappointing Rio Olympics in 2016 saw him place sixth in his heat.

But he bounced back the following year, trimming his PB even more, only to miss the Commonwealth Games because of a stress fracture in early 2018.

Bol (winning his heat on Sunday night) was the second fastest overall qualifier, just 7/100ths of a second behind Kenyan Ferguson Rotich who ran 1:44.04

Bol (winning his heat on Sunday night) was the second fastest overall qualifier, just 7/100ths of a second behind Kenyan Ferguson Rotich who ran 1:44.04

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 run. 

And if Bol can replicate that performance in Wednesday’s decider, he is every chance of claiming a spot on the podium.

Bol was the second fastest overall qualifier, just 7/100ths of a second behind Kenyan Ferguson Rotich who ran 1:44.04. Fellow Australians Charlie Hunter and Jeff Riseley were eliminated in the semis.  

‘I put myself in the best position to qualify,’ Bol told Channel Seven. ‘Even if I didn’t, I would have been happy with it. 

‘Job’s done today but still a lot to go. We can’t underestimate any of these runners. Any day, someone can come out.’

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.

‘I didn’t want to get too excited, I had to get to the final first. But we’re here making history, two Australian records in a row and I look forward to the final.’

The 800m men’s final starts at 10.05pm on Wednesday. 

Bol (right, with fellow 800m runner Alex Rowe) is every chance of claiming a spot on the podium on Monday night

Bol (right, with fellow 800m runner Alex Rowe) is every chance of claiming a spot on the podium on Monday night



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