Yesterday, Guor Marial was a gifted athlete. Today, Marial is an Olympian with less than a week to prepare for his just confirmed trip to London.
The South-Sudanese refugee qualified for the Olympics last October after meeting the Olympic "A" standard with a run of 2 hours, 14 minutes and 32 seconds at the 2011 Twin Cities Marathon. All that was missing after that display of talent was a country to represent in the Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) requires athletes to be full citizens of the countries they represent. Though Marial has lived in the U.S. for 11 years, he has yet to gain full citizenship and his status as a permanent resident isn't enough to allow him to wear red, white and blue at the games.
"Technically, I was supposed to be a citizen last June, because I did everything, I did my citizen test, I did my interview, I did my fingerprints, and everything was all set. All I needed to do was to go to their office and get my passport and do the ceremony. That was in June 2011, but there has been a security background check...and that's what took everything longer," Marial said this week in an interview with Runner's World.
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Marial was born in what is now the Republic of South Sudan, a newly independent country without a National Olympic Committee, an IOC requirement for nations to be able to compete in the games.
With no country to represent, Marial began petitioning the IOC to run as an independent participant under the Olympic flag.
"It would be great for the people of South Sudan for me to run as an independent," Marial told the New York Times last week. "And the U.S. because that's where I discovered running. It would be great for the whole world."
Many others saw his plight the same way.
A change.org petition titled "Allow South Sudanese runner Guor Marial to compete in the Olympics Marathon" was set up and received nearly 3,500 signatures. And in a letter to IOC President Jacques Rogge requesting that Marial be allowed to compete in the London Games as an independent participant, Refugee International President Michel Gabaudan wrote, "At its 123rd session in July of last year, the IOC granted independent status to athletes from the Netherlands Antilles after its National Olympic Committee was dissolved, in order to "preserve as much as possible the interests of the athletes." Qualified athletes from South Sudan, including Mr. Marial, deserve equal treatment, and the IOC should act to grant him an Olympic berth without delay."
Early this morning, Marial found out the IOC will allow him to run in the Olympic marathon as an independent participant under the Olympic flag.
"The voice of South Sudan has been heard," Marial told The Associated Press. "The 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. The hope of South Sudan is alive."
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