South #Sudanese refugee to run #Olympic marathon as an independent
US-based Guor Marial has won the right to compete as a stateless athlete after refusing to compete under Sudan’s flag.
US-based Guor Marial had turned down the chance to run for Sudan, could not represent America because he is not a full citizen and was unable to wear the colours of his first choice, South Sudan, because it is not sending a team to London.
But the 28-year-old’s late plea to enter as a stateless athlete under the Olympic flag has now been granted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Marial was preparing for a training session over the weekend when he got the career-changing call.
"I was getting ready to go for a run," Marial told the Associated Press from his home in Flagstaff, Arizona. "Wow. This is so exciting. It’s hard to describe. I’m speechless."
Marial lost 28 family members to violence or disease during the civil war that left Sudan devastated and eventually led to the south breaking away last year. He felt that representing Sudan would betray their memory, but competing in the Games this way will honour them.
He told Reuters: “For me, it means a lot to glorify the people who died for their freedom and people who lost their lives, including 28 members of my family and relatives. Their spirit is what allows me to get up every single day, put on my shoes and train to honour them.”
He has bleak childhood memories of the conflict. One night, soldiers raided his home, smashing his jaw with a rifle and knocking him unconscious. At the age of eight, he was forced to escape a labour camp after being kidnapped by gunmen. He hid in a cave until dawn, then followed the path of the sun.
"I used to hate running," he told AP. "I was running back home to save my life."
Marial lived in Egypt before reaching the US 12 years ago. He showed promise as a cross-country runner at Iowa State University. Last October he beat the Olympic marathon qualification time and in June improved his personal best to two hours, 12 minutes and 55 seconds.
South Sudan has been torn by economic collapse, tribal violence and a brewing conflict with its northern neighbour since becoming independent little more than a year ago. Establishing an Olympic body is hardly a priority and so it won’t be taking part in the Games.