From South Sudan to Japan-and to the Tokyo Olympics

Maebashi, Japan (AP) —Four athletes in South Sudan are already training in Japan for this year’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. They are on track to make a good start, but they are unlikely to win medals.

Unlike most of the 11,000 athletes who compete in the Olympics in Tokyo and thousands of athletes who compete in the Paralympic Games, they can speak Japanese.

“Only in the language itself, I love it,” said Abraham Majok, a 1,500-meter runner who arrived in Japan in November with three other South Sudan athletes and coaches. “It’s a great thing, since we started learning it. It’s not that hard and it’s not that easy. But you know, we’re working well on it and we love it I do. “

They train about 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Tokyo in Maebashi and are supported primarily by donations from Japanese people.

Majok became independent of Sudan in 2011, but fell into civil war two years later. The conflict has killed an estimated 400,000 people and displaced millions.

“As you know, in every battle you go, you always go for success, not for failure,” said Majok. “I came for the Olympics and had this dream to compete for something good for myself and my country.”

Maebashi City official Kazuhiko Kuwahara saw the four trains directly. But when the Olympics are held, the real thrill will come in about five and a half months.

“More important than their record is to see them running in the uniform wearing the South Sudan flag (at the Tokyo Olympics),” Kuwahara said. “We want to be with Maebashi people and help them achieve it.”

Akoon Akoon, a 400-meter hurdler, noted the clear benefits of training on Maebashi. There are tracks in the city.

“Before going to the Olympics, you can get enough training with a coach and truck at Maebashi,” he said. “There is no truck for there (South Sudan).”

South Sudan coach Joseph Omilock hopes to return home after the Olympics and Paralympics, and he plans to take parts of Japan home.

“I learned a lot,” he said. “It’s not just sports. I’m learning a lot. Language, the way the Japanese should be. Really good people.”

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