Guem — now a 21-year-old Olympian representing South Sudan — was so quick he shortly caught the eye of a coach, who purchased him correct trainers and sportswear.
But as a budding monitor athlete, his highschool intervened — giving him a scholarship and loaning him trainers, which he gave again to the subsequent scholar after he graduated.
For aspiring South Sudanese athletes, coaching has at all times been a problem. Many of them, mentioned Guem, battle to get one sq. meal a day and practice on uneven rocky terrain.
“I believe round 60% of athletes should not have even a pair of sneakers, so that they run barefoot,” he added.
While many Japanese cities and cities that signed as much as host Olympic groups have been pressured to rethink their plans attributable to the ongoing pandemic, Maebashi is an exception.
When the pandemic delayed the Games by one 12 months, the city of 350,000 folks raised nearly $300,000 nationwide in taxes and donations like trainers and athletic gear in December 2020 to make sure the Olympians and their coach might keep on in Maebashi — and cement an Olympic legacy.
Sports and unity
Guem mentioned he and his crew’s mission is to advertise the significance of unity at residence in South Sudan.
The 1,500m runner mentioned he sought to characterize South Sudanese states apart from his personal at native and nationwide competitions.
“I’ve by no means competed for my hometown or my state however at all times for different states to indicate my love for them and that they’re all equal,” he mentioned.
That considering is consistent with a South Sudanese sports activities competition dubbed “National Unity Day,” which has been co-organized by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), a authorities company supporting progress in different nations, and the South Sudan Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports. In its fifth 12 months, that occasion brings collectively younger folks from throughout South Sudan.
While the members come from totally different tribes and ethnic teams which may not see eye-to-eye, the sports activities competition offers an area for them to search out widespread floor. The youths, for occasion, all sleep in the identical constructing, dine collectively, and might work together freely, and get to know one another, mentioned Guem, who took half in 2016.
“Sports is one unifying issue that may be very obligatory for a rustic like South Sudan,” he added. “When you could have battle, and you might be at all times stored aside, you do not come collectively. And I’m positive the guys went again with totally different mindsets about others.”
Over in Japan, Guem mentioned he and his crew had discovered a steady setting to work in direction of their objective.
The postponement of Tokyo 2020 alsoo gave them time to coach more durable. Michael Machiek, 30 — South Sudan’s first Paralympian — mentioned he broke two private bests whereas in Japan.
“That’s giving me hope to go and compete with the prime Paralympic athletes,” he mentioned.
Beyond coaching, the South Sudanese Olympians have achieved what few different worldwide groups could have the alternative to do. Over the previous 12 months and a half, they’ve gotten to know Maebashi residents, sampled the native fare, and attended Japanese and laptop courses 4 instances every week.
“They do not seem to be strangers in Maebashi — it is extra like they’re members of the neighborhood. I believe they’re seen like superheroes,” mentioned Shunya Miyata, the coordinator for International Cooperation at JICA.
That fandom has even earned them a strong assist base.
To date, JICA has bought over 3,000 T-shirts to lift funds for the athletes. Local companies have additionally pitched in. Maebashi city’s dental affiliation pledged free care all through the athlete’s keep, and 10 merchandising machines have been erected in Maebashi to assist the South Sudanese crew.
“Through the South Sudanese athletes, we have had the alternative to consider the concept of peace collectively and understand that it is not one thing that we are able to take for granted,” mentioned Shinichi Hagiwara, a Maebashi city official.
“People in Maebashi might be rooting for these athletes at the Olympics.”
But with the Games quick approaching — the Opening Ceremony is on July 23 — questions stay over how Tokyo can maintain a large sporting occasion and maintain volunteers, athletes, officers — and the Japanese public — secure from Covid-19.
The considered one other Olympic delay is on Guem’s thoughts, however for now, he is staying optimistic.
“It nonetheless worries me as a result of the instances, it appears to be rising, and the fear is at all times there, however I’m positive that the Olympics will happen,” mentioned Guem, who desires to encourage different youths to channel their vitality to growing South Sudan.
“I’m doing it for my nation, not for myself. I wish to deliver peace in my nation,” mentioned Guem.