Resilience has been a feature throughout Peter Bol’s extraordinary life and the Australian athlete was not going to let an injured ankle derail his Commonwealth Games dreams. The 28-year-old, whose family fled Sudan’s civil war when he was four, has coped with the stress that comes with competing against the best in a gruelling event for the past decade.
There have been moments of brilliance, with his fourth-placed finish in the Tokyo Olympics last year an illustration. More recently, a seventh in the world championships was deflating. On Tuesday, when he rolled an ankle ahead of his appearance in a heat of the 800m in Birmingham, Bol would have been forgiven for fearing the worst.
Instead he focused. He iced the ankle. Put the feet up. Iced the joint again. And again. It was a professional approach to a scare. He planned to fight on, no matter the pain. But it was not until Wednesday morning that he was convinced he would produce his best. Walking 800m on a dodgy ankle is painful, let alone running it. But Bol pulled it off with brilliance when clocking a time of 1:47.01 to qualify the fastest for Sunday’s final at Alexander Stadium.
“I rolled my ankle yesterday and I was limping on the way back and today I’m perfectly fine, so it’s a massive thanks to the medical team at Athletics Australia,” he said. “I wasn’t playing basketball, I promise. I just rolled it on the curb at the track. That’s the first time ever. It was getting better by the night and then in the morning, I was like, ‘Bam, I’m ready to go’.”
The ease with which he claimed the heat is testament to this. Bol trailed Kenyan Cornelius Tuwai, who has a faster personal best than the Western Australian, for the first 550m before dispatching with him to cruise to the line.
“To be honest, I did feel at ease and I enjoyed that a lot,” he said. “It was awesome to come back from the world’s, because it was a disappointing final, so to come back here and be in amazing shape and just switch off like that at the end is amazing.”
Meanwhile, five-time Paralympic gold medallist Evan O’Hanlon successfully defended the T37/38 100m title he claimed four years ago on the Gold Coast with a time of 11.23 seconds in the final.
O’Hanlon, who has twice retired from the track during his lengthy and decorated career but returned to win bronze at the Tokyo Paralympics, said he hoped could further add to his medal collection at the Games in 2024. “I would like to keep running. I know if I was training at the same level, I was before London and Rio that I feel like I could win gold again in Paris,” he said.
Rohan Browning was left disappointed after finishing sixth in the men’s 100m final with a time of 10.20 – 0.10s slower than the time he laid down in the heats, which would have been enough for him to take silver in the final. Akani Simbine won silver in 10.13 behind winner Ferdinand Omanyala.
“I’m not happy with it,” Browning said. “It was just an ugly, painful kind of race and it’s one of those tough nights. A month ago there’s no way I saw myself in this final. I try to take each win and race in my stride but once you’re here you just want to be on that podium. That’s what it’s all about.
“I thought about packing it in after worlds and just getting back home and into some training for next year and I am glad I decided to persist. I think one of the lessons I have learned is persistence is so much more important than patience. You have just got to keep trying things and keep at it.
“Today there were a few things I could have done to be up there but I think I was bested today. I need more training in my legs and I need a big winter off-season.”
And in the high jump, Brandon Starc battled through the pain barrier and narrowly failed to defend his Commonwealth crown, but still claimed silver behind New Zealand’s Hamish Kerr after both men cleared 2.25m.
“That was tough. That was probably the toughest comp I’ve ever had,” Starc said. “I had to withdraw from world champs because of the bruised heel and throughout that comp, besides maybe the first jump, I was feeling every bit of that bruised heel.
“I was taking my shoe off, trying to get some sort of relief, taping it here and there but really I just had to grit my teeth and jump through it. I don’t know what it was, I don’t know if it was family or if I just wanted something really bad and I kind of just jumped through it and somehow I got a medal.”