It’s loud at after-school homework help at HumeRidge Church in Toowoomba.
In between times tables and English grammar lessons, the young students – many of whom are from migrant and refugee backgrounds — talk sport.
It’s usually basketball, but this week there’s scant mention of LeBron or Jordan.
It’s all about Peter Bol.
The 800m runner has captured the hearts of the country, and none so much as the young Sudanese-Australians in the town he made home as a young boy.
Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
Bol is in the men’s 800m final at 10:05pm AEST after becoming the first Australian to reach the decider in 53 years.
Bol burst out of the blocks to become the first runner wearing green and gold to make the Olympic 800m final since Ralph Doubell won gold at the 1968 Mexico Games.
Like many Sudanese immigrants, Bol initially settled in Toowoomba and went to primary school in the garden city — before moving to Western Australia on a sports scholarship – but the Queensland kids haven’t forgotten him. In fact, he’s become a local legend.
“To have someone that looks like you at an Olympic level, representing Australia, makes us feel really good about ourselves and where we might be able to head in the future,” Apat Arok said.
ABC Southern Qld: Peter Gunders
Arok says the word ‘inspiring’ doesn’t go far enough.
“There are still people here who feel out of place, and to see the whole of Australia behind him is really encouraging,” she said.
“When I go on Facebook there’s just post after post from all the Sudanese people saying what a great athlete he is to represent us.
“There are already so many young African-Australians representing the Darling Downs and Queensland — give it a few more years, and with more training and opportunities and doors opening — I really see a lot more kids from Toowoomba making it to that level.
“I think by the time we get to the 2032 Brisbane Olympics, you’re going to see a lot more little Sudanese-Australians performing on the big stage!”
Pastor Ross Savill knows the power of sport. When he’s not at his church, you’ll find him on the footy field, coaching his beloved junior football team, the Uni Cougars.
“I think sport has a great deal to offer as far as bringing people together,” he said.
“Whether that’s kicking a ball or shooting baskets — whatever it is – it just seems to be when we’re doing that together, people look past the differences that sometimes cause division, and it brings people together in a surprising way.”
Mr Savill laughed that while Bol and fellow 800m runner [and former Australian record holder] Joseph Deng have both moved away from Toowoomba, they’ll always be seen as locals.
“We’re good at claiming people,” he said.
“But I think for the community here in Toowoomba, especially the young Sudanese kids, it is a wonderful example to see him wearing the green and gold and hearing his story.
“Living in Toowoomba, I’ve been fortunate over the years to hear so many remarkable stories of courage and determination from the refugees and migrants, of people overcoming obstacles and continuing to do their very best.
“We’re cheering them all on.”
Meanwhile, the South Sudanese community in Sydney will also be cheering Bol on, thanks to lockdown ensuring more people will be online.
Community leader Emmanuel Kondok says due to Sydney’s lockdown, everyone will be online, and using Zoom to share the excitement.
“The community will be celebrating… all of us are very excited,” he said.
“Though we are in lockdown, the community collectively is very happy as one of us is making us feel proud.”