To participate in the Olympics, you have to represent a country right? Well, that is usually the norm, but athletes have competed under the ‘Olympic flag’ too. In 2012, four such athletes are competing/ have competed under the flag.
The tale of Guor Marial, a South Sudanese athlete, is an inspiring and tragic tale. In 1994, when he was 10 years old, Marial fled the war-torn nation of Sudan during the Sudanese Civil War, a war during which 28 of his family members were ruthlessly killed. Marial fled to Egypt, and then the USA, where he was granted ‘refugee’ status when he was 16 years old. Eight of his siblings were also killed during the war.
While in school in Concord, New Hampshire, his talent in the track became prominent, and he won many high school events, and also competed in college in Iowa State, where he was an all-American athlete.
Marial fulfilled the qualification standards to participate in the Olympic Marathon in 2011, but his circumstances are undeniably unique. A citizen of South Sudan, his country has yet to form a National Olympic Committee (NOC) and seek full recognition from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) after achieving their independence in 2011, and Marial could not compete under the US flag, as he holds only a permanent resident status, and not the US citizenship.
The Republic of Sudan (North Sudan) offered to allow Marial to compete under their flag, but he rejected this offer. He said, “It’s not right for me to do that. It’s not right for me to represent the country that I escaped from and If I ran for Sudan, I would be betraying my people. I would be dishonoring the two million people who died for our freedom.”
The IOC executive board on July 20th, announced its decision to let Marial compete as an Independent Olympic Athlete, and Guor Marial is scheduled to participate in the Men’s Marathon today, August 12th, the final day of the games.
The man who hasn’t seen his parents for nearly twenty years, despite them surviving the civil war, is a true hero, and inspiration for countless aspiring athletes stuck in terror-torn regions such as Afghan-Pak, Kashmir and Palestine.
Let’s all cheer for Guor Marial!