This article, Flagstaff to Stockholm – Bol’s road to 1.44, originally appeared on athletics.org.au – home of Athletics Australia.
It’s a word Peter Bol has repeated to himself with metronomic consistency of late. The Rio Olympian had his Commonwealth Games dream curtailed by injury. Struck down in November of 2017 with lower limb bone stress, Bol was relegated to the Richmond Recreation Centre, as coach Justin Rinaldi and the Victorian Institute of Sport formed an ambitious recovery program.
The 24-year old replicated his weekly running volume and intensity patterns with pool running, a torturous task requiring athletes to pool run for far longer than they might on land, in order to replicate the cardiovascular stress required for physiological improvement. Bol completed seven interval sessions in the lead in to the Commonwealth Games trials before returning to a grass track a mere 2 weeks prior to racing on the Gold Coast.
The result, whilst not what Bol had desired, was staggering in nature. Bol’s first stride in spikes took place the week of nationals, with a 1:46.94 heat winning run securing his place in the final where he ultimately faded to seventh place with a time o 1:47.94. Back to back days of racing had exposed the limited time he had to prepare.
After the Gold Coast Games, Bol was determined to take his fitness into new territory. He headed to a training camp in Flagstaff, the high-altitude training hub of Northern Arizona, with a renewed resolve to reach new heights.
“I have all of my work written down, and occasionally reviewing it helps a lot, because it’s so easy to forget the ups when you’re so down. Before deciding to head to America, I figured if I ran 1:46 off pool running, imagine what I’d run If I went on a training camp?”
Flagstaff represented the beginning of a new direction for Bol.
“I needed a goal – after the Commonwealth Games, Joe and I decided let’s start #Project144, deciding that we’d refuse to see the Australian record stand for another year. It just shouldn’t happen and whether Joe does it, or I do it, it needs to go. With Justin coaching both of us, there shouldn’t be a reason it remains.”
Bol’s only barrier was finding an appropriate race, a task made more difficult having run all of two races in 2018, indicating scant form to prospective meet directors. The task of finding a fast 800m race seemed a mountain too high to summit, until Deng’s manager, James Templeton, discussed Bol’s fitness with Rinaldi.
Templeton is no stranger to world class 800m running, managing Olympic and World champion David Rudisha of Kenya from the beginning of his career, through the world record breaking era,up until the end of 2017. Templeton immediately offered an option, the Stockholm Diamond League, and whilst the opportunity to race on the world stage would be too good to turn down, the travel would be arduous.
“The race wouldn’t have happened without James, the opportunity came at the perfect time, and I was obviously in the right shape for it. I’ve never really had a manager, and in the last few days I’ve spent with JT, I’ve come to understand the importance of a manager and the strength of JT.”
Templeton played a key role in making life as simple as possible for both Bol and his training partner Joseph Deng, removing any possible stress in the lead-up to the race.
“While I was on the flight to Stockholm from the US, JT sent me the race details – pace, important information, conditions on the day, call room, travel to track time. It was as if all I had to do was rock up and race.”
Communication with athletes before a race can be dicey at the best of times, with many existing on a hair trigger between unstoppable intent and crippling nervousness.
“JT knows how to communicate information in a way that produces confidence rather than pressure. Just before the race he’d say ‘What beautiful conditions for a fast time’, ‘our strides looked strong’ and ‘take the opportunity to run fast.’ He’s an excellent manager and I’m thankful to be on board”.
Bol’s near-miss of the Australian Record (1.44.40) by just 16 hundredths of a second is all the more extraordinary given how he arrived in Stockholm.
Thirty hours of flying from Phoenix with changes in Atlanta, Düsseldorf and Paris would take its toll on anyone let alone someone about to toe the line on the professional circuit. What makes Bol’s effort all the more extraordinary is that upon arrival in the Swedish capital his luggage went missing and so it was off to the nearest shoe store to buy new spikes.
And let’s not forget that Joseph Deng was hot on his heals, himself just 21 hundredths from the record (held jointly by Ralph Doubell and Alex Rowe).
Back in Melbourne, Rinaldi, the mastermind behind Bol’s meteoric rise, said the run was not unexpected and was pleased with the outcome.
“I was not overly surprised by Peter’s result over the weekend, as I knew a performance like that was within his abilities 12 months ago. What has made the difference is the support team that we’ve created around him over the last 12 months. Starting with building a great training group around him (Joe Deng), leveraging the ongoing support from both Nicky Frey and Ned Brophy-Williams from AA, and then the final piece of the puzzle was finding the right agent to ensure he was getting a start in the right races.”
Rinaldi is a student of the sport, and knows all too well that an athlete’s success is determined by more than the weekly happenings on the training track.
“James Templeton filled that final piece of the puzzle recently and it’s already paying dividends. As the saying goes ‘the whole is greater than the sum of all its parts’. I think we have now created the right team around both Peter and Joe that will allow them to continue to improve and succeed at the highest level.”
Bol and Deng have a perspective on life that can seem unusual to some, yet differences in understanding are accepted as inevitable, given the harrowing journey both gentleman made from South Sudan to Australia. Differences in interpretation can sometimes be misunderstood in the high performance world, yet Bol and Deng found an ideal match in National Athlete Support Structure (NASS) manager Nicky Frey.
“I really do owe Nicky a shout out, as she has been a massive supporter with both of the boys, as she understands their background and performance environment is different to many others.” remarked Rinaldi.
The next challenge for both Bol and Deng takes place in Tübingen, the university town located in central Germany hosts an 800m that will be paced specifically for both Australian’s, offering another opportunity to run as fast as possible. Bol is philosophical entering the weekend, appreciative of the advances he’s made, but hungry for more.
“Looking at the splits from Stockholm, I think I played it safe, and that was the plan for my first race. I know what I need to be a 1:44 man and what I need to be a 1:43 man, and I know opportunities will develop where I can run through 400m with a group in 50.5-51.00 seconds”.
The Tübingen track shares the familiar blue shade of Lakeside Stadium, a venue Bol and Deng have spent countless hours circling. Whilst Saturday’s race takes place 16,000km from home, both athletes will look to do their Australian supporter-base proud, building on a career-bolstering season.