Un-BOL-ievable both on and off the track
15/03/2022. By Carmelle Wilkinson. 10 min read.
Peter Bol was the first Australian in 53 years to qualify for the Men’s 800m Olympic Track finals in Tokyo last year.
Ten years ago, Australian Olympian Peter Bol (a former Curtin student) was running alongside the 228 down Spencer Road in Thornlie.
His goal? to beat the bus before it reached the next suburb of Maddington.
Growing up in Thornlie in Perth’s Southeast, the 28-year-old middle-distance runner from Sudan never dreamt of making a career out of a talent that came so naturally to him.
Fast forward to last year and Peter is running in the 800m men’s Olympic track finals in Tokyo – the first Australian to qualify for the race in 53 years.
Finishing fourth with a time of 1.44.11, it might not have been the fairy-tale ending that Peter had hoped and trained for, but it was more than enough to win over the nation.
Peter captured the attention of the entire nation when he raced in Tokyo last year.
His can-do attitude and down to earth nature captured the heart of millions and while he didn’t win first place, he gained a legion of fans.
Off the track, Peter is a homegrown success story and with his first name Nagmeldin (Peter) meaning star, it’s no surprise.
However, the highly respected athlete and rising star is the first to quash claims of celebrity status.
Down to earth and well-liked, Peter has a legion of adoring fans.
“I’m pretty chilled and I enjoy the simple life,” he said.
When Peter isn’t making laps around the track he enjoys reading, playing FIFA on his Play Station and immersing himself in different cultures.
“I love travelling. We didn’t do it much growing up, so when I visit a new country it’s all about exploring, meeting the locals, discovering new foods and learning about their traditions,’’ he said.
“In life you need balance. If you don’t take time out to enjoy your life it just doesn’t work.”
Peter’s greatest holiday memory is from a trip to South Africa in 2019, with close friend and roommate Joseph Deng, who also happens to be the second fastest runner in Australia.
The Olympian excitedly shares the story of their impromptu run in the African bush near Potchefstroom (an hour’s drive from Johannesburg) that saw the pair unknowingly run alongside zebra, springbok and other African animals.
Peter and best mate Joseph Deng (Australia’s second fastest runner) enjoying a run through Potchefstroom, South Africa.
“We were looking for somewhere to run, so our manager found a spot and said this looks ok, so we hopped out and started running. Within a few minutes we noticed herds of animals running alongside us, it was so cool,” he said.
“It was also a little scary I’m not going to lie, but we had our manager in the car behind us so if anything happened, we were ready to jump right in.”
“That trip to South Africa was my first trip back home to Africa since my family and I left.”
Peter and Joseph are not only running mates, but also roommates.
Born in Sudan, to Sudanese parents Peter was six years old when his family fled the second Sudanese civil war and moved to Egypt.
Following four years in Egypt, his family migrated to Australia, where they settled in Toowoomba, QLD (125km west of Brisbane) before relocating to Perth when Peter was 14 years old.
One of six siblings, Peter said he enjoyed a wide range of sports such as soccer and touch rugby growing up, but it wasn’t until he was in his late teens that he realised his track ability.
As a promising young athlete, Peter was accepted into St Norbert College in Queens Park on a basketball scholarship, but it wasn’t long before his incredible speed on the field was noticed.
Following encouragement from his teachers at school, Peter finally decided to join an athletics club when he was 15.
It’s been famously told that Peter stumbled into running when his school couldn’t fill spots for the 400m race in an athletics carnival, and his teacher, Helen Leahy, suggested he compete after noticing his talent.
Following two years of persistence from his teacher and a great deal of deliberation, Peter finally gave in and agreed to join an athletics club, admitting he initially only joined because he wanted to improve his fitness for basketball.
“I knew I was fast, but I didn’t think I could actually do something with it,’’ he said.
After completing Year 12, Peter studied Construction Management at Curtin University and was two years into his degree when he was faced with the difficult decision of choosing between his studies and a dream of representing Australia at the Olympics.
“I’m a firm believer in setting personal and career goals, but I was struggling to juggle both study and training and I needed to make a decision,” he said.
In 2015, at the age of 21, Peter packed his bags and moved to Melbourne in pursuit of a career as a professional athlete.
Leaving behind his family in Perth, Peter said the next few months were a time of great growth and personal development.
Training with track coach Justin Rinaldi, it was only a year before Peter’s hard work and sacrifice paid off and he debuted for Australia at the Rio Olympics in 2016, where he placed sixth in his heat in 1:49.36.
If you ever have the privilege of seeing Peter run, you’ll notice two things.
One – he is freakishly fast and two he is all class.
Peter is a firm believer in being yourself and believing in your ability.
Staying true to himself, Peter is as authentic as they come.
“When I was in Rio, I didn’t know anyone, and I stood on the warm-up track just watching the other runners. The Jamaicans were super confident and had their music blasting, the South Africans they were a little timid and shy and then there were the Americans, and they were so focused and tense. And I thought to myself I want to be like the Jamaicans,’’ he said.
“But in life it is not about wanting to be like anyone else. I’ve since learnt while it’s good to take inspiration from others, you need to run your own race and just be yourself.”
Focused and driven, Peter now has his sights set on Paris Olympics in 2024.
Peter said in life there were many driving forces pulling you to be someone else, but it was important to remember who you are.
Self-assured and humble, you will often catch Peter running around his neighbourhood rather than a state-of-the-art Olympic track.
He trains six times a week at his local gym in Richmond, prefers homecooked meals to eating out and is impartial to an ice cream – or two.
Peter trains at his local gym in Richmond at least six days a week, combining weights and cardio.
“I don’t follow a strict diet, but there is always lots of protein, carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables,’’ he said.
“Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics I was having an ice cream every Friday.
“My motto is a happy athlete is a performing athlete. I don’t restrict myself otherwise it just becomes a task. Culturally we always ate well. Mum would always cook traditional Sudanese dishes and we hardly ate out.”
On the track, Peter keeps a firm eye on the job at hand.
“When I’m running, I’m pretty focused, I like to block everything out and just focus on the moment,’’ he said.
“Some of the best races are when you can switch off all thought processes and just run. The bad races are the ones where you overthink and waste your time worrying about what your opponents are doing.”
While running might look effortless for Peter, He is the first to admit he isn’t always motivated to train, sometimes up to two hours a day.
“Truth is I’m not always motivated, but I’ve learnt to motivate myself,’’ he said.
“When I was growing up my parents never asked me to train, not once. My family are my greatest support in life, but funny enough my parents are more concerned about my mental wellbeing and me being happy emotionally than winning races.”
Running towards success. Peter is looking forward to competing at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham later this year.
Peter said he was looking forward to a trip to Perth following the World Championships in Sydney at the end of March.
When back home, Peter enjoys checking out new cafes (he is a huge cappuccino fan) and riding his scooter along the scenic paths at North Coogee beach.
“I love North Coogee, it’s so peaceful there. Although, I’m not a keen swimmer so you won’t catch me in the water much,’’ he laughed.
Off the track, Peter is a motivational keynote speaker for schools and businesses, where he talks about life in Sudan, achievements on the track, cultural diversity, resilience and leadership.
Peter speaking to a class about his career journey and how he stays motivated.
His top tip for mental health and well-being?
“Enjoy what you’re doing and don’t focus on failure,’’ he said.
“At Tokyo I obviously didn’t achieve what I went there to achieve, but I knew I had to redirect my focus.
“I had to look at the impact and focus on the progress I had made and the attention that I captured.
“I took a lot of comfort knowing so many people around Australia were glued to their TV screens supporting me, that was really beautiful.”
The middle-distance runner said his experience in Tokyo had given him the confidence and hunger to succeed, with his sights set on Paris in 2024.
Peter said seeing his face on the Sydney Opera house just ahead of Tokyo Olympics was an incredibly proud and humbling moment.
However before then, Peter continues to impress on the domestic circuit, taking first place honours at the recent Sydney Track Classic.
He also has the World Athletics Championships in the US in July followed a few weeks later by the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Currently living his life in the fast lane, one thing is for certain, Peter’s success both on and off the track are showing no signs of slowing down.
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