South Sudanese Runner Wants to Compete in London, But Not for Sudan

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman this is The World. At the London 2012 Olympics you can bet that the marathon is going to be one of the more grueling competitions, it always is. Guor Marial qualified for the event, no problem there. Turns out that was the easy part. Marial's big challenge is having a country to run for. The 28 year old marathoner is from South Sudan, a country that only gained independence a year ago. It doesn't have a National Olympic Committee yet. So the International Olympic Committee told Mariel that he can compete at the London Games if he ran for Sudan, which he doesn't want to do. Guor Marial lives and trains in Flagstaff, Arizona. Gour first of all tell us why you don't want to run for Sudan.

Guor Marial: South Sudan is independent country. It has own flag, it has our own citizen, it has our own president. And it just uh, not right being an athlete from South Sudan and be able to go and compete for the Sudan which is a country we already split from. I came to United States as a refugee, and for me to go back and represent Sudan which is the country that I [sought] refuge from just seems to me not right.

Werman: Right and I mean it's more than that for you because it's also personal. I mean your own family suffered at the hands of the Sudanese police and security forces.
Marial: That is correct.

Werman: To help our listeners better understand your personal reasons for not wanting to run under a Sudanese flag just elaborate a bit on what happened to you and your family at the hands of the Sudanese while South Sudan was trying to become independent.

Marial: I was in this small village and it's just on the border between Sudan and South Sudan and during the time I was born basically into war in 1993. It just became so hard for the young kid to be able to survive. My parents send me to Khartoum my uncle was-

Werman: The capital of Sudan.

Marial: The capital of Sudan. So my uncle was living there he was working with the Red Cross where he helped the refugees to get some clean water and get them medication. At his work he got arrested by the Sudanese security force. At night around 1 am the security force came to our house and from there they start beating up my aunt, and I was sleeping there at the door, in the room with my cousin. And all we heard was the sound of my aunt, uh, screaming. And we got up, as I opened the door all I felt was the butt of the rifle on my jaw. So we spent five days in the hospital. After five days we took the train to Egypt. We came to Egypt. Then in 2001 our name came up saying "Ok you got a grant to go to the United States." 

Werman: When did you discover, Guor, that you had a gift for running?

Mariel: All I know is, growing up, is you only run when someone is chasing you to kill you. So you run to save your life. I know I could be good at it if someone chase me with a knife or gun or something I be able to save my life but I didn't know that until I came to the United States. When I started school in Concord New Hampshire, my teacher kind of noticed something and said, "This kid, I think if we could put him into some sport he could be potentially good."  And so he went and talked to the high school track coach and came and talked to me, the gym teacher, and said, "You know what I think you should try out the track."  Fine I said, "Uh ok I can try it out."  So the coach he set an appointment with me and he said,"  Ok Tim's election is close now so I don't know if I would be able to take you but I will try."  So he tested me and I came and showed up with my basketball shorts and basketball shoes and he let me run on the track.

Werman: That was in Concord, New Hampshire some years ago, now you're in Flagstaff, Arizona training for the marathon. But from what I gather you're pretty new to the marathon. When did you start training for this distance?

Marial: I start training in, I would say, almost August of last year.

Werman : Just last year?

Marial: August of 2011, that is when I started training.

Werman : You're lobbying to compete under the Olympic flag now which is granted by the IOC for athletes from countries without Olympic Committees like South Sudan where you're from. What has the IOC said about your bid?

Marial: I haven't hear anything really, uh, positive about IOC. They wanted me to go with the Sudan team . And Sudan itself they extended invitation to me. I really appreciate what they done but I have my own country now even though I'm a refugee, but my family and by birth South Sudanese. It would be a disappointment and embarrassment to me and the people of South Sudan who died for freedom, including my brother who I just lost in 2002 after I came here. He was my hero. I always woke up every morning I run for him. And for me to do that with the talent God give me it would not be something that I would live, to take that kind of route.

Werman : And if the IOC doesn't let you go, I mean where does that leave you?

Marial: If it turns out to be the case that the IOC is not accepting me, but if I just look at it this way, I see is accepting the other athletes running under the Olympic flag and they not accepting me then that is something that I would just leave it for everyone to see what kind, you know, that I should deserve the, the same opportunity as the other athletes as well, from different countries who are being granted to compete under the Olympic flag. So I should be given the same opportunity, and the South Sudan itself should be getting the same opportunity too.

Werman : Guor Marial hoping to compete as an Independent Participant in the marathon at the summer games later this month. Guor, thank you so much and good luck with your efforts

Mariel: Thank you so much for having me I really appreciate it and thank you for everyone who is listening

Werman : You can see a picture of Guor Marial at age 11 in Sudan along with photos of him today. That's all at