Guor Marial has no idea how many interviews he’s done in the last two weeks, but he knows it’s a lot. He is doing them to make sure people are familiar with his story and to raise awareness about his country, South Sudan. If you have not heard of him, Marial is the marathoner living in Flagstaff, Arizona who will run under the Olympic flag because South Sudan can not field a team.
According to numerous published reports, Marial spent his childhood running away from things. Sudanese soldiers fired guns and burnt his village in South Sudan many times, leading him to flee into the bush at night. Eventually, he moved in with his uncle in Khartoum, where Sudanese police broke into their apartment and broke his jaw with a rifle. Over the course of the country's civil war, Marial said 28 of his relatives were killed or died of sickness. Marial and his uncle fled to Egypt, and in 2001, landed in New Hampshire.
He tried out for the track team at Concord High and started running towards things. He won the New Hampshire state cross country championship, the two-mile race at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships in 2005, and earned a scholarship from Iowa State. In October of 2011, he ran the Twin Cities Marathon and finished under the Olympic qualifying time, clocking in at 2:14:32. He then improved his time (2:12:55) in the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Marathon in June of this year. Unfortunately, his country, South Sudan, had no Olympic committee and thus, no representation in the Games. The IOC said he could run for Sudan. He said thank you, but no. A lawyer named Brad Poore took up his case, sent it to journalists, and put it in front of politicians. “A lot of this has to do with Brad Poore, who is special, for his commitment, for pitching my case in person, for taking on my case personally,” says Marial. “My case is nothing without Brad Poore.”
Under pressure, the IOC changed their tune and invited Marial to run under the Olympic flag. He said yes. Then he said yes to countless interviews that had him recounting his past. All of that remembering has come at a cost, so he asked if we could switch up the conversation when I called. “I know what happened in the past, it’s very important to tell people and for people to hear, but as I recover and tell people over and over and over again, it’s creating a personal problem emotionally for me,” he says. “So I think it would be a good idea to talk about sport, which is what I want to do, and what is motivating me, rather than the past.”
At what point did you have the dream to run in the Olympics?
It was back in high school. I started to know that running is a sport, and not just something that people did to save their life, like I used to. That’s when I started saying, OK. I watched the Olympics in 2004, and I watched the Boston Marathon in high school, and those brought me a different way of seeing running. Those moments just kind of created a dream state, that running is something that I want to do. I will continue the dream to try and run in the Olympics some day.
Then, when I went to college my freshman year, me and my freshman roommate wrote on a piece of paper and posted it on our wall. It said, we are going to go to the Olympics in 2012. We were basically just joking, and we just left it there, and you know, then I had it in the back in my mind that one day I wanted the opportunity.