Olympic runner is already a hero

A few days ago, the Concord Monitor reported the not-so-inspiring news that New Hampshire was one of just a handful of states without an athlete in the London Olympics to call its own.

Turns out, that accounting was premature. New Hampshire now has bragging rights to a marathoner who can be called an international hero before he even pulls on his running shoes.

Guor Marial, a Concord High graduate, grew up in what was then southern Sudan. He fled when civil war came to his home, massacring family and friends. He escaped to Egypt and, finally, to New Hampshire, where he landed at Concord High School and became a standout track star.

To survive at all when those around him were dying from unspeakable violence, from disease, from starvation is remarkable enough. The resilience necessary for Marial to then thrive in a foreign culture – growing up quickly, learning the language, excelling at athletics, getting a college degree – is worth celebrating.

Marial left Concord for Iowa State University, where he earned a chemistry degree and starred on the cross-country and track teams. Since then, he’s been training for marathons in Arizona.

And when his running earned him an Olympic qualifying time, he contacted the International Olympic Committee and the government of now-independent South Sudan with requests to compete in London.

Not as simple as it sounds. South Sudan is just a year old. It has no Olympic committee and therefore cannot send athletes to the Olympics. Marial is not yet an American citizen, so he can’t run for the United States. And when the government of Sudan invited him to run under its banner, his reply was a firm no.

News of the man without a country quickly drew widespread attention. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen weighed in. Internet petitions were filled with signatures from across the globe. Their message: Let Marial run!

Finally, last Saturday, the IOC relented. In retrospect, was there really any other option? Who better to represent the Olympic ideal of peaceful competition through sports?

The very creed of the Olympics says: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

Last Saturday, Marial described the decision as a victory for his homeland.

“The voice of South Sudan has been heard,” he told a reporter. “The South Sudan has finally got a spot in the world community. … The dream has come true. The hope of South Sudan is alive.”

Marial will run under the Olympic banner, technically representing no country, but nonetheless inspiring kids and adults, not only in South Sudan and Concord, but everywhere.

An Olympic spokesman said Marial’s recent times are likely to put him in the top 10 or 20 Olympic runners.

“He’s come from out of nowhere,” Mark Adams said. “He’s done two times, one of 2:14 and one of 2:12. Amazing.”

We’ll be glued to the TV on Aug. 12 when the marathon is run. But watching Marial start will be just as gratifying as watching him finish.

– Concord Monitor