North Korea has been formally suspended from the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics by the IOC as punishment for refusing to send a team to the Tokyo Games citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bruce McAveny has made some big calls, and some BIG, BIG calls. But – talk about pressure – you wonder if he might have a tinge of regret over the next 48 hours about his excited declaration of Peter Bol’s chances of a gold medal in the 800m event in Tokyo.
It’s been a long time since an Australian has appeared in the final of one of track’s great events. Ralph Doubell was our last 800m men’s finalist, and he won the gold and broke the world record in Mexico in 1968.
Bol looked assured as he won his semifinal against a strong field, and he loved flexing his actual and metaphorical muscles in the process, becoming the second fastest qualifier into Wednesday night’s final at 1:44.11, a personal best and Oceania record.
But win the darn thing? Bruce says yes, although he later chose his words with a little more care.
“He can win the gold medal,” purred Bruce. “He can win the gold medal tomorrow night. That’s what he could do tomorrow night. He is in the mix.”
Give me a B, give me an O, give me an L!
— 7Olympics (@7olympics) August 1, 2021
When Bol was told what the doyen decreed there was a noticable intake of breath.
“Oh man, that’s a big call,” Bol told Channel 7. “First thing’s first, job done today but there’s still a long way to go.
“I’m creating a lot of noise back home and I’ve got to stay humble with that.”
Later McAveny joked that his co-commentator Tamsyn Manou had “splinters on her backside” from sitting on the fence when it came to Bol’s gold medal credentials.
For a start he has a world championship bronze medallist, Ferguson Rotich, and Botswana’s former Olympic silver medallist in his way. Six of the nine man field have a better PB than the Australian.
Peter Bol ⭐️
— 7Olympics (@7olympics) August 1, 2021
But Bruce was adamant… “I think Peter is the second favourite, if he comes back on Wednesday with the same game plan he can get a medal.”
Bol fled Sudan when he was four years old with his family, settling at at refugee camp in Egypt for almost six years and arriving in Toowoomba, Queensland, as a 10 year old.
“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 told The Age before his Olympic debut in Rio.
“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.
“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.”
Bol moved to Perth for school after being scouted as a basketball prospect, then moved again to Victoria to train under Justin Rinaldi, a move that helped him secure selection for Rio.
On Sunday night before Bol went out for the semi, Rinaldi told him: “don’t make me cry, and don’t slow down.”
Both were comfortably avoided.
“The feeling of winning is pretty great,” Bol said. “I’ll take winning over time anyday.”
Back home his family and community are watching it all come together for the 26-year-old hitting the prime of his career.
“I’m taking everyone on journey,” he said. “My sister said she was so nervous. It’s all over for now but she has to wait a few more days and go over it all again.”
The final will be held on Wednesday night at 10:05pm AEST. Manou might have been sitting on the fence about the result, or just not trying to put pressure on the Australian aiming to match a legendary 53-year-old feat.
But she’s not ambivalent when it comes to who she’s cheering for.
“It’s going to be pretty hard but let’s talk Peter Bol up – he’s a wonderful athlete.”