Guor Marial has made headlines as the Olympian without a country, but the South Sudanese runner means more to his people than any athlete in London.
Marial will run the marathon under the Olympic flag, but the world’s newest nation will be hanging on his every step. The 28-year-old knows exactly how much his performance means to his compatriots.
He said, “Most important is the people of South Sudan. They struggle so much, so if I can accomplish something, I can help. That's why every morning, I get up, I put on my shoes and I train,” via NBCOlympics.com.
Sudan has been one of the most troubled nations on Earth for the past several decades. Ethnic tensions and extreme poverty have led to horrifying atrocities.
In 2011, the southern part of the country, which is comprised mainly of ethnic African groups, voted on a referendum to break away from the Muslim Arab north. An overwhelming 99 percent of population was in favor of independence.
Becoming a country was an inspiring victory for Marial and his people, but the dangers that existed before South Sudan did are still very real. Warfare between tribes and violent resistance armies, such as the one led by Joseph Kony, still plague the people of the fledgling nation.
With so many other obstacles to hurdle, South Sudan has not formed an Olympic committee. This left Marial, an All-American cross-country runner at Iowa State, in a bind.
“If I ran for Sudan, I would be betraying my people. I would be dishonoring the two million people who died for our freedom," he said, via Joshua Kors and the Huffington Post. Marial himself lost 28 family members as a result of the civil war that preceded South Sudan’s secession, according to Time’s Sean Gregory.
Marial fled the violence in his home country and has been living in the United States since 2001, as noted by Gregory.
He has a unique opportunity in London. At the very least, he can offer the people of South Sudan a momentary distraction. But Marial also has the potential to be a symbol of hope for an entire nation.
No single performance will mean so much to an athlete’s home nation. Referring to Marial as an athlete without a home does not begin to tell his inspiring story.
Marial has a home, and he will be running to try and make it a better place for future generations.