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South Sudan’s first Olympic athlete captures imagination of London 2012

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By Tom Law

August 13, 2012 (LONDON) - Guor Marial, South Sudan’s first Olympian, has not just inspired a generation, the theme of the London 2012 Games, but has become an inspiration for a whole nation as well as stateless people around the world.

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Guor Marial outside the Olympic Village in London the day after running in the London 2012 marathon. 13 August 2012 (Tom Law/ST)

In Sunday’s marathon Marial came 47th out of a field of over a hundred but for once it really was the taking part that mattered.

Given special compensation to compete as an Independent Olympic Athlete just days before the start of the Games, Marial was at the wrong stage of his training cycle meaning that his time of 2:19:32 was way over his personal best.

On Monday Marial told Sudan Tribune that he "wished it was a race [he] had prepared for. That would have been much better" but added that in this case finishing was "just as important". Finishing half way down the field was still a considerable achievement, especially as 20 out of 105 athletes in the marathon did not finish due to the heat.

Marial insisted that for him the heat was "not a factor" but admitted he had been under prepared due to his last minute inclusion and the fatigue of the intense media interest in his story. Before arriving in London he was conducting three to four interviews a day, even responding to interview requests at 2am and 5am local time in his home of Flagstaff, Arizona.

His journey from an eight-year-old who fled Sudan’s civil war to the confident yet humble 28-year-old who twice ran the Olympic qualifying time for the marathon over the last year attracted considerable international press coverage when it appeared as if he would not be able to appear in the Games.

Despite having permanent leave to remain in the United States, Marial is still waiting to be granted full citizenship. He was therefore unable to run under the American flag, and as thirteen-month-old South Sudan does not have an Olympic Committee, he was told he would not be allowed to compete in the colours of his homeland either.

Marial said that knowing only a week in advance that he was going to the Olympics was "something overwhelming but [...] the position and the time was insignificant", as representing the people of South Sudan was his "number one priority".

He declined the offer to run as part of the Sudanese team and after a campaign and extensive media coverage the International Olympic Association offered Marial the chance to run as an independent, one of only six given special dispensation to take part in the 30th Olympiad.

Sudan’s was a "great offer", he said, but he could not accept it because "as an athlete it is very important to do what is best for your people". Marial lost 28 members of his family including eight sisters and brothers during the civil war between the Southern rebels (SPLA) and the Sudanese government, which ended in 2005 allowing South Sudan to secede last year.

Around two million died and four million were displaced in the two-decade conflict.

"After what I have been through and the people of South Sudan, I had to take the right path [...] I do think that whatever I do I don’t do for myself, I do it for the country and that was very important to me."

Marial hopes that his story will be an inspiration not just to the people of South Sudan but to refugees all over the world. However, he refuses to say he is a role model insisting that it is up to other people to take what they want from what he has achieved.

It was the talent of the South Sudanese people that made Marial fight to come to the Olympics, he said, adding that he hopes what he has done has "put South Sudan on the world map" showing that "South Sudan is not just a country of war [...] it is a country with positives [...] with kids who can compete with anyone in the world."

Marial insists that there are young sportsmen and women much more talented than himself in South Sudan, they just needed to be given an opportunity. As soon as he is able to, Marial intends to return to South Sudan to see what part he can play in encouraging the next generation of sporting talent.

It will also give him the chance to visit his family in Unity State, including his father who he has not seen for over 20 years. Such a prospect would clearly mean the world to him but the biggest smile of the whole interview comes when he is asked how he would feel to represent South Sudan at the next Games in Brazil.

"I love my country and one day I hope to be able to wear that [South Sudanese] jersey."

He said that seeing the South Sudanese flag at the side of the road during the 42 kilometre race elevated his spirit and enabled him to run faster. He also stated that he was proud to wear the IOC colours and raise awareness about what South Sudanese people have been through to gain their independence as well as to promote the cause of refugees in general.

Rio 2016

South Sudan’s Youth and Sports Minister, Dr. Cirino Hiteng Ofuho told Sudan Tribune in Juba on Monday that it was unfortunate that Marial was not representing South Sudan but said he hoped that "we will have many South Sudanese runners, athletes and other games at the next Olympics".

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South Sudan’s Youth and Sports Minister, Dr. Cirino Hiteng Ofuho (ST)

He said that his ministry was "going to embark [...] very rigorously" to prepare South Sudan to send "soccer, basketball, athletics" and other sports teams to the next Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Despite South Sudan’s economic woes the minister said that money would not be a problem in terms of sending representatives to the next tournament. "It’s a sovereign responsibility that if we want to be like other countries in the world, we must therefore pay for what we want to be."

Listen to Guor Marial speak to Sudan Tribune the day after his race.

(ST)

Additional reporting in Juba by Julius N. Uma.

Photos

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Guor Marial outside the Olympic Village in London the day after running in the London 2012 marathon. 13 August 2012 (Tom Law/ST)
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Guor Marial outside the Olympic Village in London the day after running in the London 2012 marathon. 13 August 2012 (Tom Law/ST)
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Kind regards,

The Sudan Tribune editorial team.
  • 14 August 2012 08:00, by Robot

    You did us proud Marial, Thank you very much, you put a glimpse to the world that there are potential South Sudanese who can have a chance to represent themselves.

    repondre message

    • 14 August 2012 08:42, by Mi diit

      We are proud of you Guor Marial. Getting 47th position out of over 100 runners in the world is a very good beginning. Next time as you train and prepare well you will come very close I hope. Don’t worry you will hold South Sudan’s flag next time. You have proven to be a very good runner in the olympic game.

      repondre message

    • 14 August 2012 11:47, by Marolditapei

      TO: Guor Marial,
      Please work with teams and organizations that encourage running and sports in RSS. Exercise is life pro-longing especially running and other commercial sports. Encourage Treadmill supplications and Gymnastics in RSS. You are the only one I am happy with for bringing the younger international stage. Keep doing that!

      repondre message

  • 14 August 2012 08:11, by philipdit wol

    This is demoralization Marial, But please keep that spirit time will comes for South Sudan to qualify.

    repondre message

  • 14 August 2012 09:42, by Bungachier 50

    Dear Guor Marial,
    Thanks a lot for repesenting our Young Nation and for your spirit of "PATRIOTISM". Although some Feeble minded people on this website may dispute you. Continue with the same spirit. "North, South, West or East, Home is the Best"

    repondre message

  • 14 August 2012 09:43, by Gabriel KK

    You are a true son of this soil and your legancy will remain in our hearts and minds from generation to generation. God will bless you Marial.

    repondre message

  • 14 August 2012 09:43, by Bungachier 50

    Dear Guor Marial,
    Thanks a lot for repesenting our Young Nation and for your spirit of "PATRIOTISM". Although some Feeble minded people on this website may dispute you. Continue with the same spirit. "North, South, West or East, Home is the Best"

    repondre message

  • 14 August 2012 09:44, by benjamin bol

    What an inspiration Guor Marial! You have given our next youngest talented sportsmen and sportswomen! We are very proud of you. And I in particular would like to congratulate you for that achievement because being the 47th out of more than 100 runners in the world is a very promising.
    I know how as easy it was being an athlete, I shaded my tears when I first learnt that you are one of

    repondre message

  • 14 August 2012 09:47, by benjamin bol

    What an inspiration Guor Marial! You have given our next youngest talented sportsmen and sportswomen! We are very proud of you. And I in particular would like to congratulate you for that achievement because being the 47th out of more than 100 runners in the world is a very promising.
    I know how uneasy it was being an athlete, I shaded my tears when I first learnt that you are one of

    repondre message

  • 14 August 2012 09:52, by benjamin bol

    my countrymen who is going to run independently. I wish I knew it on time, I was going to joint you, I know you where so lonely but I promise next time you are not going to be alone. Let encourage all South Sudanese athletes where ever they are to start preparing for the next 2016 Rio Olympic game in Brazil this time our South Sudan’s flag will be held for the first. And hopefully will come bac

    repondre message

  • 15 August 2012 04:31, by ayany kocc wut

    I thanks those who coment on this acticle especially those who encourage Gour to follow his carre on sport and I thanks the sport minister for south sudan for word if it is not be atalk talk and be ado do.As anation now we should actually believe in action rather than just aword.we mark your word minister untill 2016 in south America.the last word is to tahnk mr Gour Marial for wonderfull work.

    repondre message

  • 15 August 2012 05:25, by GookAney Daniel

    congrat Marial: you deserve my respect and the respect of your countrymen. a long journey start with one step and I belief youtook that fist step for southerners therefore it will be all upto young south(sudan) youth to pick up from there(we still need you inBrazil 2016).

    repondre message

  • 15 August 2012 05:52, by SeekingTruth

    Bravo Marial! These are the privileges the Arabisation in Sudan has denied us for the last 50 plus yrs. This performance(of under prepared athlete) simply tell us how far South Sudanese could go if they are given opportunity in this world. I am simply very proud becos I know we’re determined, strong, talented, competence, adaptable, knowledgeable, brave etcetera. Only if the thieves could.....

    repondre message

    • 15 August 2012 05:53, by SeekingTruth

      ...reverse their actions, what a great country South Sudan would be!

      repondre message

  • 15 August 2012 06:59, by Jalaby

    Be advised this article doesn’t accept any criticism but only appraising comments!
    Sudantribune web admin had deleted 4 of my comments for no reason other than he doesn’t like my critical comments, he only allows comments like: Bravo, Congratulation,etc
    I think this is the free media the admin understands!

    repondre message

    • 15 August 2012 18:19, by panom lualbil

      JALABY
      They did delet my comments against RYAN, too. But I was wondering about where it go till then I read your sad comments here. This is the first time DINKA-NUER did it to me and I dont appreciate it. I thought this is the best way we should shape nyagatation’s behaviors but sudantribune do favor a side.

      repondre message

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