Meet Guor Marial, a marathon runner originally from war-torn Sudan. Marial's story of survival is enough to pierce the most hardened heart.
He was kidnapped at gunpoint when he was 8 years old and taken to a labor camp. He escaped imprisonment by running away with another child under the cover of night, hiding in a cave from his captors before returning to his family. Only he was kidnapped again and forced to work unpaid for a year by a Sudanese soldier's family. Marial says 28 members of his family died from violence and disease during the unrest. He was finally able to seek refuge in Egypt before making his way to the U.S., where he was granted asylum when he was a teenager.
And now, Marial, who was cajoled into running cross-country and track at his high school in New Hampshire, will participate in the London Games as one of four people competing under the Olympic flag. The other three are from Netherlands Antilles.
Marial, now 28 and working to become a U.S. citizen, would rather compete for the newly independent state of South Sudan, but the fledgling country has no sanctioning body for sports. Sudan offered him a spot on its Olympic team but Marial passed.
“The voice of South Sudan has been heard,” Marial, who now lives in Flagstaff, Ariz., 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.”
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said Marial's case is the first of its kind.
“He's actually running times I'm told wouldn't get him a medal but could get him in the top 10 to 20,” Adams said. “He's come from out of nowhere. He's done two times, one of 2:14 and one of 2:12. Amazing.”
Marial, who was an All-American cross-country runner at Iowa State, is scrambling to get to London so he can take part in the opening ceremony on Friday.
“I think they will move heaven and earth for him to get here for the ceremony,” Adams said of Marial's supporters in the U.S.
The Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.