South Sudan's runner dreams of putting his country on the map
Tears streamed down Akoon Akoon's face as he left the track having finished last in the 800m heat race. The clock marked 1:54:54 when he crossed the finish line, which meant that the South Sudanese athlete was almost four seconds behind the race leader. He is one of only three athletes from South Sudan who compete at Buenos Aires 2018 and given the challenges he has training back home, he has already won a battle just by getting to the competition.
His country of origin is located in East-Central Africa and has a population of about 12-13 million people. The nation has been independent from Sudan since 2011, but the ongoing political and economic difficulties mean there are few opportunities for athletes like Akoon to get the training and experience they need to become champions.
"I train a lot, but it's not enough," Akoon said. "I have a person who accompanies me, but I do not have a place to stay and the sports equipment that you see here. Everything is excellent here, I'm still amazed by the technological equipment and the modern training track."
Akoon qualified for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games through a national competition in which he came first, but competing against athletes from around the world at Buenos Aires 2018 puts him at the back of the pack.
"If you do not train well, you can not compete with the athletes who do," he said.
The young runner started to train in athletics fairly recently.
"My first try was four years ago at school. This is where competitions are held, then you move into the national team and that's how I started. This sport is the second most popular in South Sudan after football," he said.
In addition to his hardships with training back home, Akoon said he is struggling to adapt to the different climate in Argentina.
"The climate here is much colder than in South Sudan. At home it is a lot hotter. I suffer a lot, even yesterday and the day before yesterday it was very cool," he said.