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Joseph Deng cannot remember much about his early years in Kenya, where he was born in a refugee camp.

But one memory does stand out for the Australian Commonwealth Games representative: his first experience competing against someone in a running race.

"When I was a pretty young kid my cousins used to live in Eldoret, where most of the famous runners are," Deng told the ABC.

"I actually ran there, not like a competition, I just ran in the street. The first race was against one of the neighbours.

"I fell in a hole and rolled my ankle and then I started crying because he beat me."

Deng's athletics career has come a long way since that day in Eldoret, which is regarded as the spiritual home of Kenyan middle and long distance running.

He reached a significant milestone by placing seventh in the men's 800m final at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, but it is his family's remarkable journey to this point that is his greatest achievement.

Deng's mother Rebecca fled Sudan amid civil unrest and ended up in a UNHCR refugee camp in the Kenyan town of Kakuma, where she gave birth to her son in 1998.

Children living in Kenyan refugee camps have been vulnerable to many health concerns, such as malaria, dysentery and respiratory infections, while adequate shelter, food security and child protection are also major issues.

Moving out of Kakuma was a priority, and when Deng was six he and his mother and sister Margaret were able to relocate to Australia, settling in Toowoomba in south-east Queensland.

At age 12, Deng and his family moved to Ipswich where he met one of the greatest influences on his young career, coach Di Sheppard.

Joseph Deng congratulates Luke Matthews.

Sheppard works at Ipswich Grammar, who awarded Deng a scholarship, and he began to make considerable progress under her guidance over the next five to six years, highlighted by his selection in Australia's team for the 2016 world under-20 championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

Deng has since shifted to Melbourne to link up with coach Justin Rinaldi, but he was touched that Sheppard made the effort to be in the crowd at Carrara Stadium on Thursday night to see him contest the 800m final.

The 19-year-old was deeply moved when after the race he caught up with his family, who were bursting with pride.

"It means a lot. They were down there just before, they were going crazy," Deng said.

"I was a bit disappointed but they were happy. It was pretty good."

Deng an 'absolutely incredible' athlete

Deng's performance on the Gold Coast, where he ran 1:47.20 in the final, is unlikely to be the highpoint of his career, as he is regarded as one of the best middle distance prospects to emerge in Australia for some time.

His effortless stride is beautiful to watch and Australian teammate Luke Mathews, who won bronze in the 800m, is certain Deng has the potential to dramatically lower the national record of 1:44.40.

Mathews believes Deng is an "absolutely incredible" talent.

"I've got a lot of respect for Joseph Deng and I think he could be our first guy to go sub-1:44," Mathews said.

"He could do anything and he is an absolute specimen."

Aside from competing among a world-class field on the Gold Coast, Deng will learn much from simply getting to the start line at the Commonwealth Games.

He was controversially selected as Australia's third entrant in the men's 800m after failing to qualify for the final of the event at February's national championships, before he faced a race against time to compete at the Games when he tore a quadriceps muscle during a training session just three weeks ago.

Deng vindicated the selectors' decision to pick him by making the final and he is grateful for the opportunity to represent Australia following the struggles his family has had to face.

He describes his Gold Coast experience as an "awesome feeling", while giving the impression he knows his career will only reach greater heights.

"Running out there was good," reflected Deng.

"I wish I could have done better, but there is always next year. It's just a learning curve.

"I'm still young, I've got plenty of years ahead."

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