Stranded in Japan, South Sudan athletes keep Olympic dreams alive

MAEBASHI, JAPAN (AFP) – The postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was a heavy blow for many athletes, but a team of South Sudanese sprinters training in a Japanese town are hoping to turn the delay to their advantage.

The four athletes and a coach have been in the city of Maebashi, north of Tokyo, since November, taking advantage of training facilities that aren’t available in their young but poor home country.

And with news of the historic postponement of the Games over the coronavirus, they’ve decided to stay on until at least July, hoping to beef up their skills.

“The Tokyo Olympics (have been) postponed. It’s not a problem,” team coach Joseph Rensio Tobia Omirok, 59, told AFP.

“I’m happy because I’m still training, and in other countries they have no training. They’re sitting in their house but here we are OK… Training now is going okay.”

The decision to postpone the Games for a year until July 2021 came after athletes and sports associations heaped pressure on organisers and Olympic officials.

South Sudan Paralympic 100m, 200m runner Michael Machiek Ting Kutjang takes part in a training session in Maebashi. PHOTO: AFP