WE’RE RUNNING OUT of time. The sun is about to rise on Clovelly Beach and while it’s not even 6am, the rocky edge facing the water is already packed. There are those sitting in contemplative meditation; others are either starting or ending their morning run. Close to the edge of the cliff face, a group of women in their 20s is celebrating a birthday over ice coffees and shrieks of laughter. For a brief moment, everyone is quiet as a sliver of burnt orange light appears on the horizon, ushering in that sense of calm sunrise always seems to bring. It’s peaceful. Or at least it should be. Because, like I said: we’re running out of time.

We’re here to shoot Peter Bol, the Sudanese-Australian athlete who stole the hearts and minds of the nation at the Tokyo Olympics. We all remember those viral scenes from Perth as his family and friends cheered on as Bol sailed through his heats, breaking two Australian records on his way to a fourth-place finish in the 800m final.

The plan today is to capture Bol as the sun rises triumphantly behind him, the 30-year-old drenched in its luminescent rays. You could call it a metaphor: as Bol prepares for Paris 2024, his third Olympic Games, the spotlight is on his broad shoulders as one of Australia’s brightest talents. But while Bol is in position, the wardrobe is nowhere to be seen. Our producer helpfully points out that we have approximately 12 minutes until the sun has fully ascended and we will have missed our moment. Nervously, I check my phone: nothing. Meanwhile, Bol is circulating among the crew, introducing himself. Dressed in loose-fitting black pants and matching top, with a crisp pair of Adidas Stan Smiths on his feet, he’s as relaxed as I am stressed. I’ll later hear that this is Bol’s default disposition.

“I try to be as mentally relaxed as possible,” he says. “But at the same time, I know I’ve put in all the work that’s required; I’ve put in a hundred per cent. I think one of the key things about me is I know when to switch on and I know when to switch off.”

Peter Bol Esquire Australia
Giorgio Armani blazer, $3600, pants $2650, and waistcoat; $1500; Paspaley pearl and sandalwood necklace, $10,800. Photography: John Tsiavis. Styling: Grant Pearce

It’s little wonder he’s relaxed. After a niggly hamstring injury, Bol is strong and healthy as he prepares for Paris, having been recently announced as one of the first athletes confirmed on Team Australia. He’s also recently engaged, with the wedding set for next April in Perth. In other words, life, both on and off the track, is going well. As we wait, a woman on FaceTime notices our cover star, takes out her headphones and calls out, “We’re rooting for you in Paris, Peter!”

But if the scene this morning seems idyllic, the truth is, the past 12 months have been anything but. By anyone’s standards, Bol’s story is unique: born in Sudan before moving to Egypt at six and Australia at 10, Bol’s family arrived in Toowoomba, Queensland, with barely a word of English between them. Within a decade he would be representing his adopted nation at the Olympics in Rio. But the past year threatened to derail his story from inspiring tale into something more sensational – and sinister. Because, just over a year ago, Bol was accused of taking the performance enhancing drug EPO. (If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same drug that the United States Anti-Doping Agency found Lance Armstrong had been using. Essentially, it’s a hormone naturally produced in the kidneys that stimulates the production of red blood cells and therefore enhances your body’s ability to transport oxygen around the body, making you fitter.) One of the purest storylines in sport, that of a former refugee with an infectious smile who beat the odds, had turned on its head: our hero was, allegedly, a cheat. 

It took Bol six long months to achieve vindication. First, the athlete’s B sample returned an “atypical finding”, meaning it was neither positive nor negative. Later, Sport Integrity Australia announced that his A sample should never have been deemed positive in the first place. The wounds still fresh, it took Bol another six months to want to discuss this saga in any detail. That’s what we’re here to do today: to hear Bol’s side of the story.

This was supposed to be the final stretch of the narrative: our hero had weathered a storm and emerged even stronger than before. It’s already the stuff of a feel-good Hollywood epic. Except this particular story doesn’t want to end. Just as the finishing touches were being applied to this article, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) quietly released a report that detailed changes to its EPO testing procedure, suggesting the Bol case may represent not just a landmark precedent in doping policy, but also be a sign of something more systemic. But all that is to come. Right now, the report is but a file on a cloud-based server somewhere in Montreal at WADA headquarters, while Peter Bol is here in Clovelly.

Our producer grabs me by the shoulder: six minutes to sunrise. Mercifully, the wardrobe arrives just in time and Bol is hurried into a mobile changing tent. As he emerges, his relaxed energy is replaced by a steely focus. Time to switch on.

Peter Bol Esquire Australia
ZENGA cardigan, $3595, and pants, $5015; Alinka necklace, $14,900. Photography: John Tsiavis. Styling: Grant Pearce

ACCORDING TO PETER BOL’S coach, Justin Rinaldi, the 800m is more a mixture of science and art than it is an athletics event. The 51-year-old from Melbourne has spent much of his life perfecting the discipline, first as an athlete, winning the Australian title in 1997, and now as a coach. “I made a lot of mistakes as an athlete and I’m ensuring my athletes don’t make those same mistakes,” he tells me over the phone one Tuesday afternoon in March before taking his athletes through their daily 5:30pm session. Alongside his full-time job working at ANZ Bank, Rinaldi leads the Fast8TrackClub, one of the few running clubs globally that focuses solely on the 800m. Of all the running events, it’s often referred to as the toughest.

“It’s really difficult to get right because it’s in that crossover between the 400m, the sprint event, and the 1500m, which is more of an endurance event,” explains Rinaldi. “[You need the] right mix between having the right speed and the right endurance. If you get the first lap wrong by half a second, it’s only a small margin but you can pay for it in the last lap.”

The crucial part, however, is ensuring your body peaks at the right time. If you’ve ever seen a competitive runner train, you’ll notice them constantly checking their watch. Each lap, or ‘split’, is timed to perfection: not too fast, not too slow. Speed, stamina and tactics are key; but timing is everything, both in the context of a race, and more broadly, over a season. If, for example, Bol sets a new national record in the lead up to the Olympics, that would be great. He’d create history and a few headlines along the way. But, in doing so, the risk would be that by the time Paris arrives, he would have passed his peak and dipped in form just when it matters most. Rinaldi says it’s a delicate science to ensure his athlete is in prime physical condition come August.

“It’s different between each athlete but we say, on average, when you look at the data, it’s normally the eighth race where people run their fastest time. So we’ve just got to make sure Peter doesn’t over-race before the Olympics. You don’t want to get to the Olympics and that’d be your 12th race and then you’re on the way down. And you don’t want to under-race, so it’s just finding that right balance.”

“I try to be as mentally RELAXED as possible. But at the same time, I know I’ve put in all the WORK that’s required"

When Rinaldi first met Bol in 2014, he saw the “untapped talent” simmering beneath the surface. They’d met at a few races and begun talking. Soon, Bol explained that he aimed to make the Australian team for the Rio 2016 Olympics. “I said to him, ‘Well, if that’s your real goal, I think the only way you can do that is if you move from Perth to Melbourne and train with me’,” remembers Rinaldi.

Bol did exactly that and within a year, Rinaldi’s predictions had come true: Bol was selected to compete in Rio, the first time he would officially don the Australian singlet. Not bad for a kid who got into the sport reluctantly. After arriving in Australia at age 10, Bol’s first love was basketball, receiving a scholarship to play in high school.

“The Sudanese community loves basketball,” he explains. “We had people to look up to. Back then, Manute Bol [no relation] was massive [in the NBA]. And then you had Luol Deng, too.” For Bol, not only was there the allure of the NBA, his four brothers also played basketball, and besides, running didn’t seem all that fun.

“Now that I reflect on it, running is quite individual and we never did anything individual,” he recollects. “We are always a group of people, a group culture, a group tribe. We wanted to be part of a tribe, part of a family. And with running you are kind of on your own. So it didn’t really appeal to me.”

Peter Bol Esquire Australia
Song for the Mute jacket, $1995. Photography: John Tsiavis. Styling: Grant Pearce

Slowly but surely, this attitude shifted. After Bol won a few cross-country events at school, a teacher pulled him aside and tried to convince him to take running seriously. Like Rinaldi would years later, that teacher saw the untapped talent. Still, Bol was unconvinced. It was only when he noticed there was one student at a neighbouring school whom he couldn’t beat that he finally started training to complement his natural talent. That’s when his competitive spirit found the spark it needed to ignite.

“Year 11 came and this same kid was beating me,” remembers Bol. “I was just like, Man, I’ve got to get this kid! So I went and trained and then I became the fastest in the Interschool, which includes all the Perth schools. And I was like, Man, imagine being the fastest in the whole state public schools. Then I did that and I was like, Man, imagine being the fastest in the country! There’s always a next level. So it’s something that started years ago of, I just want to beat everyone in my class, to now where I just want to beat everyone in the world.”

Rio represented his first opportunity to pit himself against the best in the world. As it turned out, he wasn’t quite ready.

“That lack of experience really showed,” he recalls. “I was so fascinated about all the different athletes and I wanted to be like them. I remember seeing Usain Bolt, who was the talk of the Olympics and he just seemed so confident. I was like, I want to be like Usain Bolt, because those Jamaicans look like they’re having the best time. And then I see the East Africans, the Kenyans, my competitors in the 800m. I’m like, Man, they look so shy and nervous, but that’s just a culture thing. And come the end of the championships, the Kenyans actually dominated the event. And then you just appreciate it’s the people being themselves who perform at their best.”

"We wanted to be part of a TRIBE, part of a family. And with RUNNING you are kind of on your own. So it didn’t really APPEAL to me.”

Four years later, by the time Tokyo came around, Bol was a different athlete.

“The athlete he was when he first came to me in 2015,” says Rinaldi, “compared to the athlete he is today, he’s slightly fitter, he’s slightly improved his abilities, but mentally he’s a lot stronger. That’s why we saw the results in Tokyo. I had an athlete that believed in himself and believed that he could achieve great things.”

Alongside improvements in his mental strength, Bol says he looked for small tweaks in his physical training to unlock incremental improvements in his performance. One of those was Pilates, which he credits with enhancing his glute-and-core strength, giving him an extra burst of speed for the final sprint.

“And that made the difference because when I came to the Olympic Games, I ran 1:44.13 to break the Australian record and when I woke up the next morning, I was like, I feel like I can do that again. And I went back to the track and I ran another Australian record to make the final. Sometimes your ideas and all the extra one-percenters you do, it’s hard to measure, but when you can measure it and see results, it’s pretty cool.”

Peter Bol Esquire Australia
Commas tank, $325, and pants, $555; Adidas X Song for the Mute shoes, $200. Photography: John Tsiavis. Styling: Grant Pearce

Pretty cool is something of an understatement. Bol’s performance at Tokyo was nothing short of electrifying. But it wasn’t just what he achieved – breaking two national records in the space of two days and becoming the first Australian to reach an 800m Olympic final since 1968 – but the way he did it, roaring home in his heats with a big joyous smile on his face.

Following a year of COVID lockdowns – the hardest of which hit Bol’s new hometown of Melbourne – Australia was in desperate need of a pick-me-up. And Bol provided it: the inspiring underdog who went toe to toe with the world’s best. When he spoke to his parents after the final, his mother responded with a phrase in Arabic: you have lifted the community’s head. Bol’s father corrected her: “No, you have lifted the nation’s head,” he told his son. 

Even before the Games, Bol could feel something was brewing. He had put in the work and was convinced it was about to pay off. “I just knew,” he says, looking back. “I was training in the best possible way and on top of that, come Tokyo, I’m mentally fit, I’m mature, I know exactly who I am. I’m not going to Tokyo thinking I want to be like someone else. I know exactly who that person is and when you know that, that’s when you can do damage on the track.”

A few months before the Games, Bol was invited to a leadership course at the Victorian Institute of Sport that was run by a man named Paul O’Brien. Afterwards, Bol messaged O’Brien for advice. “My life is going to change and I want to know how to handle it,” he said. The only thing Bol didn’t account for, was just how much.

Peter Bol Esquire Australia
Dolce & Gabbana jacket, $2150, and sunglasses, $355. Photography: John Tsiavis. Styling: Grant Pearce

IT WAS JUST AFTER 7am on January 10, 2023 when Bol heard a knock at his door. As soon as he opened it, he knew something wasn’t right. Usually, the testing agents from Sport Integrity Australia come with big bags and equipment. This time, there was only one, and he looked serious. Still, with no reason to feel anxious, Bol responded the way he always had: “Blood or urine today?” he asked.

That’s when he was told the news: he had tested positive for synthetic EPO. Today’s visit wasn’t about a drug test; it was to inform Bol that he was now provisionally banned from competing.

“I’m just sitting there confused and I said, ‘Can I get my phone to call my manager and my coach?’ When I called Justin he thought it was a prank. And then I called my manager and everything turned upside down.”

Next, the agent informed Bol he would have to surrender his phone, laptop and computer into evidence. “That was probably the hardest part,” explains Bol, “realising I was at the house for two or three hours with no phone, just in my thoughts.”

The nightmare started to become very real, very quickly. At first, he tried to tell himself this was all just a mistake. Surely, they will realise the error and everything will be fine. But as the hours passed with no-one to talk to, the reality started to dawn on him.

You’re suspended and you are facing a four-year ban, he realised. “But on top of that you cannot represent Australia anymore. And you are automatically discredited not just from the work you’ve done on the track, you’re probably discredited from everything else you’ve done because you lose a lot of trust. Not just from the track point of view but from all the people around you. It was tough to think about that.

“The hardest person I had to tell was probably my mum. At the time I was like, You can’t afford to break. Because you realise the people that love you, whatever reaction you give them, they’re going to give it back.

“At the end of the day, I understood pretty early that I cannot control emotions. I cannot control people. The only thing I can control is my mindset and that’s what I focused on . . . You have to become the strength for the people around you. But it was also good for me in a way because it was an easy time to break down and I needed to stay strong as much as possible. It was almost like a game. How strong can I stay and for how long?”

Little did Bol know at the time that this torturous game would last another eight months – and it was about to take another turn for the worse. Because just as Bol and his team were making sense of the news, it was leaked to the press.

Standard procedure when an athlete fails an A sample is for the result to stay confidential until the B sample is analysed. Instead, a leak from an unknown source revealed Bol’s ban, meaning he was no longer being judged solely by the anti-doping agencies but also in the court of public opinion. That’s when his sense of confusion turned to anger.

To cope, Bol stayed active. While he wasn’t in the right mindset to keep training, he decided to go back to his first love and pick up a basketball. As well as shooting hoops, he was either spending time with family or reading – stories about his idol Muhammad Ali and the “racism he went through”, as well as a book called Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.

“I read all about the injustice people go through around the world,” explains Bol. “I was like, Wow, if you’re healthy and you’ve still got people around you . . . not to say that it’s not that bad, but [you can] keep living and keep staying strong. There’s another person who’s going through worse. I learned that through different people’s stories.”

Peter Bol Esquire Australia
Fendi coat, $5570, and pants, $1700; Adidas shoes, $150; necklaces: Brie Leon (shorter), $289, and Alinka (longer), $14,900. Photography: John Tsiavis. Styling: Grant Pearce

While Bol was trying to stay sane, his team got to work behind the scenes, hiring US-based sports lawyer Paul Greene, who, in turn, commissioned two separate independent expert reports into Bol’s tests, one from a laboratory in Canada and another in Norway. As Greene and his team were preparing their findings, Bol’s B sample was returned by WADA, showing an “atypical finding” (ATF), meaning it did not match the positive A sample. Case closed? Far from it. While the results of the B sample meant the ban was lifted and Bol was free to return to the track, there was a fairly significant caveat from Sport Integrity Australia.

“An ATF is not the same as a negative test result,” a statement read. “Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) will, as part of its investigation, proceed to consider whether any anti-doping rule violation/s have been committed. It is not possible to provide a timeframe at this point.”

One month later, Bol’s own independent review was ready. Both labs, who point out they received no compensation for their work nor have any relationship with Bol, were unequivocal in their findings: neither of Bol’s samples showed any evidence of synthetic EPO. In layman’s terms: the A sample, the B sample, the ban, all of it – wrong.

Still, the matter rolled on. Because while Greene’s report was definitive, SIA continued its investigations into Bol, who, at this stage, was on a plane to Jordan to take part in the Channel 7 show SAS Australia. Originally, he was attracted to the idea of learning resilience and building his capacity to withstand pressure. As the drug case dragged on, he considered it a useful distraction. It says a lot about what Bol was experiencing at home that the thought of being screamed at in the desert by an angry Ant Middleton was the more attractive proposition. He tells me today that there was another reason: the costs of mounting his defence were racking up and he was in desperate need of money.

“It was a great opportunity for me to build my resources to fight my case,” says Bol. “If it prolonged for the whole year, it would’ve cost a lot more.”

“I’m just sitting there CONFUSED... and then I called my manager and everything turned UPSIDE down.”

After 10 days in Jordan, which included narrowly escaping drowning, Bol decided to bow out of SAS Australia, citing injury concerns. “I’ve got world champs this year. I’ve got the Olympics next year. I was fourth in Tokyo. I don’t want to be fourth again,” he told his fellow recruits.

When he got back to Australia, he was free to return to the track, competing in events in Europe to get his fitness back to par. Before long, he received the news he’d been hoping for: the case was finally closed. WADA’s independent expert reported Bol’s A sample as negative, after “further analysis resulted in varying expert opinions as to the positive or negative reporting of the sample”. In response, the chairman of the Athletics Integrity Unit, David Howman, had some scathing words about how the case was handled. “The worst thing that could happen is what happened in that case,” he said. “What we must do is to ensure that the process can be reviewed and re-conducted in a way that doesn’t end up in such a disaster. It’s not fair on the athlete. We accept that.”

Bol describes the news as “bittersweet. It was weird because my family was happy. Everyone was happy and rightly so. But are we really celebrating my innocence?”

And so it was back to business as usual. Weeks after the judgment, Bol made his way to Budapest to compete at the World Championships, the most prestigious event on the athletics calendar outside the Olympics. But what should have been a triumphant return to the track, his reputation restored, was marred by a sense of conflict Bol felt at representing Athletics Australia again after a traumatic 6 months.

“Competing in Europe in all different races is not the challenge because you’re competing for yourself and for your sponsors,” says Bol. “The challenge was coming to the World Championships and competing for a federation I was disappointed at. Maybe two weeks before the worlds, I was like, Fuck this, I’m not going. I just knew what was going to happen. I see these things beforehand, just like I saw my success in Tokyo. This whole athletics journey has really been a journey about knowing myself. And I’m at that stage that I know myself pretty well and I know what’s going to make me feel uncomfortable. I’ve always competed for Australia because I wanted to compete for Australia. And it was the first time that I didn’t want to.”

Peter Bol Esquire Australia
Coach jacket, $595, and pants, $450; Paspaley pearl and sandalwood necklace, $6480. Photography: John Tsiavis. Styling: Grant Pearce

Bol’s premonitions were right: he bowed out in the heats, a shadow of his best self. After the race, he refused all media requests. Even today, nearly a year since he was exonerated, the pain is far from gone; he’s just learned how to manage it. If it wasn’t for the support he received from the Australian public, he may not be competing today.

“It was hard in so many different ways,” he says. “Because it’s like, how do you explain you are disappointed at the federation, but you don’t know who you are disappointed at. There’s so many good people at that federation that supported me, that to this day I still talk to, but you can’t group them. That’s when the issue becomes, how deep do you have to go, how much sleep do you have to lose to find out who actually let you down? The other hard part was the Australian people. They supported me and they gave me that courage and strength at such an important time. How do you communicate to them that you don’t want to compete for the country?”

One of Bol’s most vocal supporters was former Olympic sprinter turned Channel 7 Sunrise host Matt Shirvington, who gave an impassioned defence of Bol on air last year. When we speak on the phone, Shirvington’s anger seems undimmed.

“The worst fear of any clean athlete is that somehow something will go wrong and tarnish your name,” says Shirvington. “That really is why I wanted to defend Pete.”

Shirvington is quick to point out he’s not soft on drug cheats. In fact, he’d “throw the book at them” and believes a standard four-year ban for doping is good for sport. But he has some theories on how the Bol case was mishandled.

“If you are willing to cheat, you should be punished,” he says matter of factly. “But I think until that point where it is truly a solid case, then it needs to be confidential. The thing that I found interesting was the timing of that leak, which was days away from the announcement of the Young Australian of the Year, for which Peter was a nominee. And I just thought it was interesting because there would’ve been a lot of backtracking if he had been named Young Australian of the Year, if then this information came out rightly or wrongly. So I just wonder if it was safer for a leak to come out before he was named, rather than having to rescind the award with egg on your face knowing that you had held that information?”

I press him for more detail. Who, or what, is to blame? Shirvington says that it’s less about individuals; “the process” is what let Bol down. He explains that all athletes have to make themselves available for one hour a day, every day, for random drug testing. You miss three tests in a year, that’s an automatic four-year ban. It’s a big commitment, says Shirvington, who recalls giving blood from his kitchen table at 6am.

“All athletes have, if something goes wrong, is that process,” says the former sprinter. “They can only rely on the information that they’re given from Sport Integrity Australia or wider, Athletics Australia. They’re the people who are dealing with the positive test. So if the information is leaked beforehand without [the athlete] having the chance to defend themselves, or without having their lawyers advising them, then the damage is already done.”

I ask him what should be done to ensure this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.

“Yeah, that’s a really good question. I can’t tell you that,” he acknowledges. “But one thing I do know is if someone is making a personal or organisational decision to leak information to protect themselves, then that breakdown within the process needs to be resolved. That can’t happen. It needs to have a tighter confidentiality. Surely that’s one step towards resolving the issue.”

“The worst FEAR of any clean athlete is that somehow something will go WRONG and tarnish your name."

Throughout the process, WADA, SIA and Athletics Australia have remained adamant that they did nothing wrong, while assuring critics WADA would review their EPO testing procedures. After the ruling in August when Bol was exonerated, SIA released the following statement:

“WADA has acknowledged that at all times Sport Integrity Australia adhered to the Code in relation to its management of the matter. Athletics Australia, too, has adhered to the required process throughout this matter.

“WADA will now undertake a review of current EPO processes . . . A review and strengthening of the EPO review process by WADA is an indication of good governance structures in place.”

At the end of March, just days before I spoke to Shirvington, WADA’s review was complete and the changes to the procedure were, albeit very quietly, made public. To make sense of the 38 pages of dense scientific literature, I got in touch with Professor ​​Jon Nissen-Meyer from the Norwegian laboratory commissioned by Bol’s legal team, who identified two key changes. First, the new procedure allows for “additional testing”, which is a complementary analysis method to the existing EPO testing method, which Nissen-Meyer labelled “old fashioned and rather unsophisticated”. The second change is related to how the samples are interpreted. EPO testing involves comparing an athlete’s sample test against a negative ‘control test’. However, as Nissen-Meyer observed, “If there are large amounts of the athlete’s natural EPO (as was the case in Bol’s sample), the lab can incorrectly interpret a negative sample as positive”. The new procedure will mean the different tests can be “adjusted” to ensure they’re “comparable and facilitate proper interpretation of results”. 

Would these changes have meant Bol’s results would not have been flagged as positive? Nissen-Meyer is unsure, pointing to the fact that the new procedure still relies on a subjective interpretation of the results, and therefore leaves itself open to human error. As was the case with Bol, a positive sample in one lab could be a negative in another. Nissen-Meyer explains that the Australian lab viewing Bol’s sample, “in a sense followed the new rules . . . but (ironically) the interpretation of the results done by the laboratory and the second opinion provided by . . . the WADA laboratory in Cologne was nevertheless completely wrong!”

Peter Bol Esquire Australia
Bottega Veneta blazer, $4220, and pants, $2190. Photography: John Tsiavis. Styling: Grant Pearce

Aside from the WADA review, and Shirvington’s suggested changes to ensure tighter confidentiality, there’s another, potentially more inflammatory question that is being asked. And that is whether Bol’s genetic background as a Sudanese man could have potentially predisposed him to higher levels of natural EPO and therefore falsely flagged his sample as a positive result. I put the question to Nissen-Meyer, who again is uncertain, though his guess is that the result had more to do with the misinterpretation of the tests than Bol’s genetics. He does, however, leave me with one crucial detail: he has no knowledge of whether WADA’s testing takes into account genetic diversity. “I am not sure whether it has been investigated,” he says.

For a second opinion, I speak to Dr Catherine Ordway, associate professor and sport integrity research lead at the University of Canberra, who has followed the Bol case closely from the beginning. “Since this case hit the media, I’ve also been asking the question,” she tells me. “We know that when tests are developed across the board, the samples used are North American, Australian, European, and rarely include women. And so primarily white-Anglo men are essentially seen as our standard. Does that mean that when we are asking what a natural range looks like, for something like EPO, and we are looking for something that falls outside that range, that we haven’t taken into account the diversity of genetics in the human population?

“I’m a lawyer and not a scientist, so when we are doing things that impact on people’s lives, like banning athletes for doping, I believe it is crucial to have transparency about the criteria we’re relying on. After putting this out there, I received a few cryptic messages back, DMs from colleagues I trust, where people said, ‘Keep asking questions. There’s a lot of grey here and you’re on the money’.”

It seems, therefore, that Bol’s case may well toss up more questions than answers. We still don’t know the source of the leak and likely never will. What would Bol’s life and career look like had he not been falsely accused of being a drug cheat? Is his reputation permanently damaged as a result? And how many athletes have, in the past, been victims of similar circumstances but without the resources to fight their case? But these are questions Bol isn’t obsessing over.

“I’ve got no ill will,” he says. “You realise you do more damage to yourself, being resentful and angry. I can sit here today and say I’m really not angry at anyone. If I am, I don’t even know who that would be [aimed at]. And I’m not willing to do the work to search for that person. I prefer my peace.

“I think I’m stronger through it all,” he continues. “We are a resilient family, a resilient people. We’ve moved to a new country, we’ve adapted to a different culture, learned a different language. You fail and you have to put yourself in a vulnerable place. So this was another aspect of building more resilience. Was it necessary? No. It was a year that I would never take back, but I would never want to live again.”

Peter Bol Esquire photoshoot
Hermès jacket, $5120, pants, $1700, top, $1230, and shoes; $1570; Paspaley Pearl necklaces, two joined, $10,880 each; Moscot sunglasses $370. ALSO SHOWN Porsche Cayenne S. Photography: John Tsiavis. Styling: Grant Pearce

THE SHOOT OVER, I meet Bol that evening at the Sheraton Hotel next to Hyde Park, his base for the week while in Sydney. With the bar closed, we settle into a booth in the corner of the lobby. Bol has replaced his shoot gear with a rugby jersey and a pair of shorts that reveal muscular runner’s legs, his calves shaped like hard mangoes. Sitting with back straight, hands clasped neatly in front of him, there’s an air of a politician about him. Not the rusted-on types we see around Canberra, more the new-age personalities like America’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and, dare I say it, a youthful Obama. After what he’s been through, Bol has every right to be bitter. But he speaks about his life and the pain of the past year with a cool detachment, as if looking down objectively from above. A lesser person may well have thrown in the towel, content with a life out of the spotlight. Bol, on the other hand, knows he’s here not in spite of his past, but because of it.

It helps that Bol has written obsessively about his experience. “Every single story I’ll share with you here now, it’s written somewhere,” he tells me. It’s a habit that started in high school, a way to help him visualise events and achievements before they happen, while also allowing him to make sense of his own past. Written in the first person, moments from his career often form the basis of each story, allowing him to crystallise his memories, preserving them for future use. Throughout the drug saga, he went back through his stories to see if there was anything he could learn from them.

“[I said] let me go through everything that I wrote and see, how have I managed different situations? How have I got over disappointments on the track? How have I got over different failures?”

Sometimes, these stories are for personal reference only, but others form the basis of keynote speeches he delivers around Australia to schools, businesses and detention centres. Over the past year, he’s given more than 100 keynotes on everything from authenticity to diversity. It’s his way of giving back to the next generation in the way his high school teacher once encouraged him.

“The only reason I really started and got to where I am right now is because that teacher went outside of the box and was like, ‘I’m going to help you. You are talented, but obviously you don’t recognise it’. There’s so much talent out there and I just want to help kids realise it.”

“I’ve got no ILL will. You realise you do more DAMAGE to yourself, being resentful and angry."

The keynotes also help him prepare for life after athletics. Because, for Bol, as I’ve come to realise, it has never been just about running. He doesn’t speak about his ‘career’; rather, it’s an “athletic journey” he’s been navigating. And while this journey may have started on the track, his legacy will extend far beyond it. Just like that of his idol.

“I grew up seeing amazing athletes, and then watching Ali was a bit different,” says Bol. “He stood for people, he stood against racism, and he was poetic, articulate. On top of being a great athlete, I want to be three things: I want to be physically strong, mentally strong, but I want to make an impact.”

Safe to say, he’s done that already. But there’s still more to do. Having secured Olympic qualification, Bol has a few more races to go to achieve peak condition come Paris. Winning gold in his third and (most likely) final Games would be the fairytale ending his story deserves. But Bol knows this is only one chapter in a long and winding epic.

“I don’t think it does end,” he tells me. “My goal was never just to be an athlete and I’ve proven that now. Well presented, articulate, great keynote speaker and I’m Young Western Australian of the Year. It would be great to win Australian of the Year one day. We’ve got the Olympic Games in Brisbane [in 2032]. It’s not for me to compete, it’s for the next generation to set that pathway. Sure we’ll have ups and downs, but the story continues.”

Emporio Armani jacket, $3300, pants, $910, and top, $640; Paspaley necklace, $10,800. Photography: John Tsiavis. Styling: Grant Pearce

Photography: John Tsiavis
Styling: Grant Pearce
Grooming: Richard Kavanagh
Producer: Sofia Sallons

Peter Bol appears on the cover of Esquire Australia’s winter 2024 issue, on sale May 6. Find out where to buy it here

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