Saturday, August 4, 2012

Life is like a box of chocolates... You never know what you're gonna get.

This story appeared in the newspapers on 3rd August, 2012.
I used to hate running. I was running back home to save my life 
South Sudan marathon runner Guor Marial will officially compete under the Olympic flag at the London 2012 Games but deep down he will represent his new nation and its long-suffering refugees. No coach, no sponsors, no country to represent, Former child slave Guor Marial bids for marathon gold.  Olympic marathon athlete Guor Marial knows what it’s like to keep running for mile after gruelling mile. The 28-year-old long-distance runner spent most of his childhood being chased through savage battles in his native South Sudan.

Running through the desert with hardly any water or shelter, his was a training regime like no other. A tough survivor of a 20-year civil war that left two million dead – including eight of his 10 brothers and sisters – he ran from Sudanese soldiers who attacked and burnt his village, an army officer who kept him as a slave and Arab nomads. Now Guor will line up in the London 2012 marathon on Sunday. He will represent no national team because South Sudan, the world’s newest country which won independence in July last year, has no Olympic committee.

He has no coach, sponsors or training facilities and just one well-worn pair of running shoes. He works all night to earn a living in Flagstaff, Arizona, and trains by day. But remarkably Guor has secured a place alongside the world’s greatest long-distance runners on merit.

It makes his story one of the most inspiring of London 2012, so much so that the US, British and Olympic authorities have gone out of their way to help him.

When he ran from his crisis-hit East African nation to become a refugee, Guor completed the most important race of his life so far.

He went first to Egypt before arriving in the US state of New Hampshire with an uncle in 2001.

He said: “I used to hate running. I was running back home to save my life.” However, he won the state cross-country championship and was given an athletics scholarship by Iowa State University. In June last year, he entered his first marathon, in Minneapolis, and finished it in two hours and 14 minutes – just inside the Olympic qualifying time. But he was a runner without a country. As a refugee he could not represent the US. The Sudanese government invited him to join Sudan’s team, but Marial refused. “If I ran for Sudan, I would be betraying my people,” he said. “I would be dishonouring the two million people who died for our freedom.” After a second quick marathon time, a lawyer took up his case, lobbying influential people to get Guor a place at the Olympics. Just 12 days ago, the International Olympic Committee agreed that he could run as an independent athlete under the Olympic flag.

Last Thursday, the US and British authorities granted him a visa and travel documents in record time – though they arrived too late for the opening ceremony. He said: “South Sudan has finally got a spot in the world community. Even though I will not carry their flag in this Olympic Games, the country itself is there.The dream has come true.”

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