After months of petitioning and hoping, marathoner Guor Marial finally got the call. The 28-year-old native of what is now South Sudan had met the Olympic qualifying standard with his time of 2:14:32 at the Twin Cities Marathon last October, but officially he had no country to represent. Before leaving his home in Flagstaff, Ariz., for a workout last Saturday, Marial received word that his appeal to run as an independent athlete under the IOC flag had been accepted.
The Republic of South Sudan became independent in July 2011, after decades of civil unrest in Sudan, but the new nation has no Olympic organizing committee. Marial, a permanent resident of the U.S. but not yet a citizen, was invited to join the Sudanese delegation but declined. Not only might it have jeopardized his refugee status, but to Marial it also felt morally wrong because the Sudanese flag represents violence and oppression to many South Sudanese. Twenty-eight members of his family died as a result of the civil war, and Marial himself was forced to work as a child laborer in Sudan before he escaped the country at age eight. He fled to Egypt and, in 2001, to the U.S. If Marial can get to London in time for Friday's opening ceremony, he will join three athletes from the Netherland Antilles, whose organizing committee was dissolved in 2011, in marching under the IOC banner. "I will be carrying South Sudan and its flag in my heart," Marial told the Chicago Tribune last week. "All South Sudan will see me, and it will give my country hope in the world community."