Marathon man's incredible journey

Sat, Aug 11, 2012, 01:00

Marathon runner Guor Marial fled Sudan fearing for his life with the central African nation torn apart by civil war but he said that fight for survival gave him the strength to become an Olympic competitor.

Marial's extraordinary journey from war-torn Sudan 14 years ago to the 2012 Games culminates tomorrow when he competes as a stateless, refugee in the marathon.

As he prepares for the race, his family, who he has not seen since 1993, are walking 30 miles from their village with no electricity or telephone to the town of Panrieng in South Sudan to watch the event on television.

Marial, 28, said he is running for them and to raise awareness about refugees and his fledgling nation of South Sudan, the world's newest country that gained independence in July last year after a peace deal struck with Sudan in 2005.

South Sudan has not yet established a national Olympic Committee so cannot send a team to the London Games but Marial is competing as an independent athlete under the Olympic flag.

Marial, who was kidnapped twice in Sudan and lost 28 of his family members in the violence, said he would be carrying his country "on his shoulders" on Sunday.

"Growing up in the war, it was dangerous and hard. It was about survival of the fittest," he told a news conference on Friday. "I feel fortunate to have that, to have that background, that's helped me with my running and my everyday life."

After fleeing Sudan, Marial went to Eygpt and then to the United States in 2001 as a 16-year-old and now lives in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Marial said he never ran for fun in Sudan and it took some convincing by his gym teacher in the United States to get him to take up the sport. "Back home, when you run, you are running from danger," said Marial, a chemistry graduate. "But it has become something that I love and I want to continue doing it."

Marial achieved the Olympic qualification time for the marathon last October and improved his personal best in California last month, finishing in 2 hours 12 minutes 55 seconds. The world record is 2:03:38.

Olympic officials had suggested Marial run at the London Games for Sudan but he refused, saying it would be a betrayal of his country, his family and all those who died in the war.

A week before the London Games, the International Olympic Committee agreed to let him run as an independent athlete under the Olympic flag. Marial is one of four independent athletes at London which is the third Olympics to let athletes compete under the Olympic flag, following Barcelona in 1992 and Sydney 2000. The other three are from the former Dutch Antilles.

Marial said he hoped his participation at London would inspire young people in South Sudan.

"I hope the young generation in South Sudan will see me and dream high for the years to come, work hard and say we can also get a chance in the Olympic Games," he said.

Marial is not the only refugee from South Sudan to compete in London. Chicago Bulls player Luol Deng, who grew up in London after fleeing Africa, is playing for Britain's basketball team and Lopez Lomong, who has US citizenship, is competing in the men's 5000 metres.

As for the race on Sunday, Marial has no expectations. "It is always an unpredictable race and a tactical race," he said. "I am going to the race open-minded."