Peter Bol reflects on a whirlwind few months, 18 years in the making

When Peter Bol first arrived in Brisbane as a young child, he says he couldn't even place Australia on a map, but 18 years later he is heading to Brisbane airport as a national hero, embarking on the final leg home to reunite with his family in Perth.

It is Bol's first trip home since he became Australia's first Olympic 800m track finalist in 53 years, and it's finally a chance to celebrate with the people who have supported him every step of the way.

Speaking to ESPN as he completed the final day of hotel quarantine, the 27-year-old was in high spirits and said his family has warned him what is in store when he arrives at the family home in Thornlie, south of Perth.

"They said, 'we're going to have a barbecue for you but there's going to be lot of people attending that barbecue'."

"And I said that's okay, for the community and for anyone to come" Bol says smiling broadly.

"It's a good example of what's possible in this country and what's possible once you can recognise that opportunity. That opportunity was given to me so early by a teacher at school pulling me out of basketball and saying, look, I think you might be good at this running thing."

Bol turned out to be really good at running but admits he still has a hankering to shoot hoops.

"I love basketball, it's probably still my favourite sport and I mean if you ask me if I still play, it depends who is watching - if my coach is watching this interview then I haven't touched a ball in like a year or two," he laughs.

"But really, I still love shooting around, it's just fun, it's a good sport and like, I got behind the Boomers at the Olympics. It's just cool, that team environment, that team sport -- Athletics has that too, it's just basketball goes for a little bit longer and if you're tired you can get subbed out and come back later, but you can't run 800m and at 400 say sub me coach."

"[I've] always been a Lakers fan and a massive Kobe fan. I love the NBA and I love sitting around watching games."

Helen Leahy was the teacher that convinced him to switch to athletics and she will be there to celebrate his Olympic achievements along with every other person who has played a part in Bol's career.

"Yeah she'll be at the barbecue, that will be kind of cool. It will be really strange - I don't call her Miss anymore, I call her by her first name. Also everyone that's helped me through the journey I still have a really strong relationship with them."

Bol's parents were unwavering in their support of him as a person but he said they left the responsibility of remembering his training schedule and keeping up attendance to him, these days though he says his mother is more persistent and adamant that he never forgets the people that matter.

"I have a coach there [Bernie Catley] that coached me from the start and every time I go to Perth my mum always pulls me up and says 'have you visited him yet?'" Bol laughs.

"So every time I go back there I visit my old coach and I'm like, you tell me to visit my old coach but you never told me to go to training? But that's how important the people are and the relationships you build, it's not really the sport, it's what you do outside of it."

Capturing hearts around the country with his spontaneous post-race message in Tokyo which particularly resonated with migrant communities, Bol unintentionally became a role model - a label that seems to sit comfortably on his young shoulders.

"It [his post-race interview] came straight from the heart and it's what I'm about on and off track, so the Olympics was a good way to showcase who I am as a person, rather than everyone just seeing me as an athlete and [it was] just a great moment, the timing was perfect and had a lot to do with that."

"Stories are so powerful and they come in many different forms - but the greatest form is coming straight from you, tell your story in your own way."

While he was born in Sudan, his family went to Egypt before migrating to Australia, and his African roots are something Bol is extremely proud of.

"I think that's a powerful story because there's that connection between my heritage and what I stand for and what I love and this adaptation to the Australian culture at the same time and what I love too and I'm able to kind of connect them both together," he says.

"It's a like a message that you can still be yourself - Sudanese is who I am, it's a part of me and I can still be that and I can still adapt to the environment around me and that kind of makes it unique, just being yourself and it's cool."

Despite his self-assured demeanour, Bol admits he has experienced racism in all different parts of the world. The key, he says is to build the resilience to stand strong against the prejudice.

"That comes with a lot of confidence and sport did give me a lot confidence to stand up to that stuff and again, as I say, [it's] just who I am. I'm not going to try and not be Sudanese anymore because there's people who are racist against those minorities, I'm confident in who I am and I'm going to show you we're just people."

Home is now in a number of locations and Bol says he is more of a 'global citizen' as he traipses around the world on the athletics circuit but he was still blown away by how much his performances in Tokyo resonated in Australia.

"It's so powerful, the idea of literally the race that lasted - I think the first two races, breaking the Australian record, lasted 1 minute and 44secs and to capture that many people's attention."

"Sport generally goes for so much longer and to be able to capture so much attention, it's great for athletics, it's great for the sport as well and I think part of that, part of the story that everyone loves is who my family is, you know, that made a big part of it."

He says it took a while for him to watch the footage of the final for himself.

"Initially I didn't want to watch it back because the goal was to win and yes ... the biggest win I think was off-track and how much impact we had but still you've got to get back to reality and be like, well we didn't achieve our goal of winning gold and medalling, so that was the goal and as an athlete I'm all about high performance and about achieving those goals."

"For me I'm like, okay it was amazing celebrations and everyone is so happy with how you conducted yourself and you take that and you are grateful for that but then you come back and you go to sleep and you're like, man, I finished fourth and you know, imagine... I wanted to win."

While he acknowledges that to be in the top 8 in the world to earn a spot in an Olympic final is a huge achievement, falling short of his gold medal goal is powerful motivation for Bol.

"It's just drive, drive, drive."

"It's why I stay so calm and everyone's like 'how are you so calm?', and I say 'I haven't really done what I wanted to do and the job is not really done yet'."

"That's why I'm calm, there are still goals that I want to achieve and while I'm thankful for everything that comes with it, I appreciate how hard it is -- you can't take away from the winners either, would you have done anything different and no, it's like 'those guys, they were better on the day'."

"That's what the 800 is about, who is better on the day and there were three people faster than me on that day, in the world and it's not about what you deserve, it's about what you can go out and get because no-one is going to hand you a gold medal."

Bol has now set his sights on a gold medal in Paris at the 2024 Summer Olympic Games but he knows he has a host of supporters in Perth that will be cheering him on regardless of his performance.

The sheer number of family and friends that crowded around the television at the Bol family home in Perth to watch Peter run the Olympic final in Tokyo, made headlines across the country, but for this unassuming young man, that was business as usual.

"Everyone was like 'man how does it feel to have all this family, watching you, supporting you' that is so powerful, but I don't know any different that's what I grew up with, that's just normal."

"For Australia it was awesome to see that but I'm like 'that happened four years ago I just wasn't that big, I didn't have that much success so the media wasn't around it' but that was happening in Rio and that's again why it's so powerful to keep that part of your heritage and your culture and that's what I admire."

And after a two-week period in hotel quarantine with just an exercise bike and a PlayStation for company, Bol says he is more than ready for that family reunion.

"Going to be a big weekend just meeting and greeting people but I also need it, I haven't seen anyone in like 14 days so I think I can cope."