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August 13, 2012

Refugee Marathoner has Running in His Blood

By Maron Soueid

This blog is part of the Olympics 2012 and Human Rights series.

Guor Marial, Age: 28 Country: None (Independent Olympic Athlete) Event: Men’s Marathon

If there is a unique story that embodies the spirit of the Olympics, it comes from Guor Marial. Marial, who escaped Sudan after much of his family was killed in the country’s second civil war, fulfilled his dream of competing in the Olympics in London.

Born in Panrieng, a small village in what is now South Sudan, Murial experienced nothing but war as a child. Over twenty members of his family were killed, including eight of his own siblings. At age eight, Marial was abducted by Sudanese government forces and forced to work in a labor camp. He escaped at age 15 and ran to Egypt before immigrating to the United States. Having fled war-torn Sudan, Marial received refugee status in the United States when he turned 16. He ran track in high school in New Hampshire and in college became an All-American at Iowa State University.

For only the third time in history, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has allowed Marial, a stateless participant, and three other athletes to compete in the Olympic Games as Independent Olympic Athletes. Marial walked under the banner of the Olympic flag in the opening ceremonies, and, should he have won the men's marathon, the official Olympic anthem would have been played. On the other hand, Marial feels that he is also running for his fellow South Sudanese compatriots. “The voice of South Sudan has been heard”, he proclaimed, “South Sudan has finally got a spot in the world community.”

Sudan experienced a civil war between the central government and political factions from the South who felt underrepresented and mistreated. The Sudanese government has been accused of committing war crimes against its own people during the war. The war lasted between 1983 and 2005 and ended in a Comprehensive Peace Agreement mediated by the United Nations. Over two million people, mostly South Sudanese, were killed during the war. South Sudan finally gained independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011.

Now that South Sudan is an independent country, Marial is proud to represent the fledgling nation. He was offered a spot on the Olympic team from Sudan, but Marial refused, stating:  “If I ran for Sudan, I would be betraying my people”. Marial said he would like to compete under the banner of his native South Sudan someday. The year-old nation did not send a delegation to the 2012 Olympics.

From escaping Sudan by foot to running the Marathon in the Olympics, Marial's unique journey certainly deserves recognition of Olympic proportion.

Marial finished 47th overall in the Men's Marathon.