Joseph Deng has returned from Monaco to Melbourne as the new Australian 800m Record Holder, and straight off the plane he and his training partner Peter Bol had a full schedule of media commitments.
They went straight to a live national morning television news slot, then further interviews with the national broadcaster, several radio interviews in Melbourne, and then interviews with the major national newspapers and subsequent online coverage.
Friday started for Deng talking to renowned broadcaster and athletics fan Alan Jones, on top rating morning show in prime-time and continued with both Deng and Bol on prime time drive radio on the ABC with Rafael Epstein.
Deng and Bol are amazing athletes and their backgrounds as refugees makes for a far greater inspirational and educational story. It is fantastic that they, and coach Justin Rinaldi, are being rightly recognised for the sensational achievement which they have been training so hard for. And it is great for athletics in Australia.
Deng ran 1:44.21 in Monaco to break the near 50-year-old record of 1:44.40 set by Ralph Doubell when he won Olympic gold in 1968. Alex Rowe jointly held the record from his performance at the same track in 2014, and he too was then coached by Rinaldi.
Despite the long flight home Deng was still beaming when he spoke in between media interviews.
“I was super stoked to finally get the record,” Deng recalled his emotions from Monaco. “My coach and I have been working towards this goal since moving from Brisbane to Melbourne. And to finally break the record was one of my biggest goals so I’m happy with that.
“There have been a lot of athletes that have tried to break the record and it was very important to us that the record didn’t turn 50, so we just had to come out and do it,” Deng, who only turned 20 this month, said.
The opportunity to train with his friend and 2016 Olympian Pete was the major factor in his decision to relocate to Melbourne in March 2017. From that point on they plotted the downfall of the record with Rinaldi. It didn’t matter who broke it.
At the start of the season it looked like 24-year-old Bol could be the one to create history in Europe. At the Stockholm Diamond League he got the better of Deng to win in a personal best 1:44.56.
Rinaldi thought that both athletes could break the record in Monaco and with Deng happy to share the achievement and give so much credit to Bol, it is almost like they did.
“They’re kind of like brothers,” Rinaldi explained. “They spend so much time training, travelling and living together and that close bond also comes from having really similar backgrounds.
“Joseph really looks up to Peter and the only reason Joseph is in Melbourne is because of Peter and that friendship they have. They struck up the friendship and Joseph wanted to come to Melbourne to train with Peter more than he wanted to train with me.”
Bol is super excited for his close friend and that the record is finally broken. He doesn’t want to take too much credit for the record but acknowledges that the pair are very tight and get the best out of each other.
“It’s a good relationship,” Bol says with a big smile. “We have a lot of fun and I think that’s why we run so fast. We train hard but sometimes we’re so relaxed people will think we’re not even training.”
The athletics community and members of the African community in Australia have been behind #dengfever and Bol for several years. They both know if they keep performing and lead by example then they will attract a new audience for athletics in Australia.
Both young men are comfortable with being a role models.
“I hope what Pete and I have done can really influence the younger African youth to achieve more in life here in Australia,” Deng said.
Both athletes will head to Perth to spend time with their respective families and enjoy three weeks of light training.
Further insight into the project of ‘Chasing the Record’ and what is next for Deng and Bol will be on athletics.com.au soon
Andrew Reid for Athletics Australia