As Peter Bol lined up as the first Australian to make the men’s 800-metre final since 1968, he carried with him the hopes of a nation.
His nation. Our nation.
And as he took off with lightning speed, we had our hearts in our mouths.
In homes across the nation we told our kids, too young to know, about his story. Peter Bol’s story.
How he was from Toowoomba in Queensland, via Sudan.
How he was from Perth, in Western Australia, where as a 16-year-old, he first ran the 800 metres on a school oval. Until then, he was a diamond waiting to be found.
How he was from Melbourne, Victoria, where his raw talent was encouraged and fostered and massaged and honed.
How he earned a place in the final for Australia by outrunning every competitor in his semi-final a few days earlier.
And, as we screamed at the television in our homes, everyone watching could see the masterclass in other lessons Peter Bol so cleverly delivered.
Courage, in taking the front position early, setting the tempo, and leading the pack.
The athleticism as he pushed his body to try and hold on in that final stretch, when those who had run easier earlier, overtook our boy.
The exhaustion, writ large on his face, as he crouched down on the Tokyo Olympic stadium seconds after crossing the finishing line fourth.
That disappointment – his, not ours – that he told us about a few minutes later when he graciously stopped to be interviewed.
— Joseph Deng (@j0sephdeng) August 4, 2021
His ambition. Not realised this week, but at 27, he’s got time.
“The goal was to win,’’ he reminded us.
His humility in that trackside chat where he thanked his country for their encouragement and support.
“I didn’t know if I was to win, but I knew one thing certain, that the whole of Australia was watching. That carried me on,’’ he said.
His vulnerability and honesty.
“I’d be lying if I said I’m pretty happy right now,’’ he said.
His regret, over tightening up too much he thought in that last 100 metres, allowed his competitors to run him down.
His thanks, to the country he chose, for backing him all the way.
Australia, Thank you ❤️ pic.twitter.com/bwFMtTAVAG
— Peter Bol OLY (@pbol800) August 4, 2021
“I’m grateful to Australia. I’m thankful to everyone in Australia. We’re human at the end of the day,’’ he said.
And, at that moment, despite not wearing a medal, he seemed a little superhuman.
The warm recognition of the role played by family – and his was packed to the rafters back in a Perth lounge room shouting like the rest of us.
He might have belonged to them before this week, but now Peter Bol belonged to all of us.
That incredible raw talent. That big heart.
In Toowoomba, the first Australian city to claim him, they celebrated long and hard, led by the city’s strong Sudanese community.
Kids began to dream of Brisbane in 2032.
In Perth, his family led those celebrations; the pride in the son and brother and uncle and friend feeding smiles around the world.
In Africa. In Japan. And in his home country of Australia.
Kenya’s Emmanuel Korir, just a year younger than Bol, took gold with a time of 1 min 45.06sec.
But he was on the Bol bandwagon too.
“There was nobody who wanted to take the pace, so I just said I was going to control it. The Australian guy, he did something good for me.’’
Not just you Emmanuel Korir. For every single one of us.
Take a bow. Bold race, forced into the pace setter. Held on so bloody long!! Brilliant 4th place. #Tokyo2020
— Kurt Fearnley (@kurtfearnley) August 4, 2021