South Sudan Olympian trains in Japan, seeking Paris podium, peace in homeland

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Guem Abraham pose for a photo in Ami, Ibaraki Prefecture, on Oct. 16.

AMI, Ibaraki — A South Sudanese Olympian is back in Japan to train, his sights set on taking the podium at the 2024 Paris Games and helping bring peace to his homeland.

Guem Abraham, 23, who competed in the men’s 1,500 meters at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, has joined the professional team Sharks in the Ami Athlete Club, a private track and field club in Ami, Ibaraki Prefecture. The team mainly trains middle-distance runners for 800-meter and 1,500-meter races.

Abraham hopes his efforts will help lift people from poverty and realize peace in South Sudan.

He spent about a year and a half in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, for a pre-Games training camp as a representative of South Sudan for the Tokyo Olympics. Although he did not qualify for the Olympic final, he served as the flag bearer at the opening ceremony. He recalled the experience, saying it was exciting to be able to compete with athletes from many countries and that he could feel the benefits of peace.

Back in his home country, Abraham was unable to train in the way he wished. In October last year, Sharks founder Yasunari Kusu, 29, learned about Abraham’s situation and asked him if he wanted to join the team in Japan.

Kusu himself had been aiming to compete in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase in the Tokyo Olympics, but the Games were postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though he was conflicted about continuing own career, Kusu was inspired by Abraham, who spoke of his desire to bring peace to South Sudan by representing the country as an Olympian.

“I always wanted to contribute to my community,” said Kusu. “I felt we could pursue our dreams together.”

The two continued to correspond, and in May, Abraham returned to Japan to join the team.

Currently, Abraham is training with other member of the team in Tokyo. Since he began receiving professional coaching and joined Sharks, he has already broken his own record twice.

While training with the team, he has sent money to his family and fellow athletes in South Sudan where even eating enough food or getting proper running shoes is difficult, he said. In between training sessions, he also participates in events organized by the club to help more children experience the joy of running.

On Oct. 16, Abraham took part in a sports event in Ami, during which he enjoyed running with elementary school children and readily responded to their requests for autographs and photos. He said he was delighted to be able to enjoy sports with the children.

Capitalizing on this chance to grow as an athlete, Abraham hopes to medal at the Paris Olympics in 2024.

He said he wants to return to his home country eventually and found a school where children can receive an education and enjoy sports.