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Athletes doing great in Japan

By John Agok

The South Sudan National Olympic committee officials commended the tremendous training and successful tournaments South Sudanese athletes have been participating in Japan at the edge of Tokyo 2020 Olympic.

During the press conference in Juba Dr. Tong Chor and Eng. Stephen Juma on behalf of South Sudan National Olympic (SSNOC) updated the public on positive progress of the Country’s athlete’s outstanding performance in the training. The Athletes said to had been there for nearly a year now in a bid to prepare prior to Tokyo2020 in Japan.

Dr. Tong commended efforts of these athletes and called for support and encouragement from all people not only fans.

“I really congratulate Lucia Morris, Akoon Akoon and Michael Machiek for tremendous training they are now having in Japan, just at the edge of Tokyo2020”, he said.

Tong narrated the meters they have accomplished in their various tournaments as well as during training.

“There is 400-metre hurdle specialist Akoon Akoon; 100m and 200m specialist Lucia Morris; 1,500m specialist Abraham Majok (who didn’t make it to practice when VICE World News visited); and 100m and 200m Paralympic runner Michael Machiek.

The setting is idyllic. Maebashi is mainly known for its pure water, greenery and as the birthplace of a number of Japanese poets. Picturesque mountains surround the town with over 300,000 inhabitants. 

The municipality agreed to host the athletes after a former member of Japan’s International Cooperation Agency involved in sports development in South Sudan heard a search for a training venue for the team.

The training session was in the hands of Japanese coach Hiroshi Yoshino and consisted mainly of stretching drills. Using the hurdles as an obstacle, they move sideways, one leg at a time. When Akoon struggles, one of the assistant coaches encourages him to pick up his pace”. 

Akoon, 18, is the youngest of the group. Later on, sitting on a chair outside right next to the track, he shows a picture of himself standing bare-footed on a sandy field: a reminder of where he came from and how much he has accomplished against the odds. 

“We ran without shoes,” he said. “Here we have everything we need, including a race track. In South Sudan, we don’t have hurdles, but here we have them. We don’t have tracks, we train in the mud.”

The group arrived in November 2019, at that time only expecting to stay for eight months. Then the pandemic hit and the 2020 Olympics got postponed. The city decided to prolong their sponsorship of the team by an extra year, at least until the Olympics started, allowing them to stay and train. As of this month, they are still there, and the plan is to stay for the games set for July. 

Even though Japan has managed to endure the pandemic better than other major economies, a cloud of doubt still hangs over the fate of the games despite reassurances from the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government.

A high-ranking politician of the biggest political party in Japan recently speculated that cancellation was a real possibility, though he later walked back the comments. No matter what develops, the number of fans will be severely limited.

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