Guor Marial of Independent Olympic Athletes and Martin Dent of Australia backdropped by the Queen Victoria Memorial compete in the Men's Marathon on Day 16 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on the streets of London on August 12, 2012 in …
Photographer: Getty Images
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MANCHESTER, NH - Sudanese refugee Guor Marial of New Hampshire ran the marathon at the summer Olympics as a man without a country and a man without a coach.
But he was a man with inspiration.
He said Friday his legs started giving out on him six miles into the 26.2-mile race, but quitting was not an option. He saw people of all nationalities on the sidelines shouting his name and waving the flag of the newly formed state of South Sudan -- his birthplace.
The race was not about him. It was about refugees worldwide, he said, and about supporters in New Hampshire and across the United States who'd helped him secure his extraordinary bid to compete as an independent athlete, under the Olympic flag.
"For me to stop was not an answer," said Marial, 28, during a visit with U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, one of his most ardent supporters. "If it was a 40-mile race I would finish it, no matter what, even if I had to crawl."
It was that same determination that spurred an 8-year-old Marial to escape a labor camp in Sudan, where more than two dozen family members had been tortured and killed or died of disease. He made his way to Egypt and eventually to New Hampshire 11 years ago. He has permanent resident status in the United States.
He discovered he liked to run when he was recruited to join the Concord High School track team his sophomore year. When he showed up wearing basketball sneakers the coach rolled his eyes.
That same coach, Rusty Cofrin, recalled Friday that even in basketball sneakers "he had an amazing stride. He was just floating."
He attended Iowa State on an athletic scholarship, and became All-American in cross-country his junior year. He moved to Flagstaff, Ariz., to train at its 7,000-foot elevation.
Marial ran only two marathons prior to the Olympics, but his time in San Diego this year qualified him to run in London. Because he is not a U.S. citizen, Marial could not run under the U.S. flag. South Sudan -- where his parents still live -- has yet to form an official Olympic Committee. The government of Sudan offered to let him join their team, but Marial found that option unconscionable, given the brutality that same government meted out to so many relatives who were tortured and killed, including his brother.
Marial petitioned to run as an independent and Shaheen endorsed his bid. He learned a week before the opening ceremony that his request had been granted by the International Olympic Committee.
Marial placed 47th in the marathon -- 11 minutes, 31 seconds behind the winner -- but said he "feels great given the circumstances."
"It was a big accomplishment," said Marial, seated in Shaheen's office surrounded by members of his extended family and his former coach.
He said his spirits were buoyed even more during the race when a group of about 30 fans from South Sudan tried to run onto the course and hug him. Held back by security, they broke into an African dance. Marial was still flagging, his legs leaden, but he would finish.
"That gave me courage, a mental toughness to say this is nothing compared to what I've been through," he said. "If it was just a regular race I would stop. But the moment there was about the people I was representing -- a moment of the South Sudanese people, a moment of refugees, a moment of New Hampshire and the United States."
While Marial lives and trains in Flagstaff, he calls New Hampshire his home. He sacrificed his job working the overnight shift at a home for the mentally disabled to go to the Olympics. He said he will spend some time in New Hampshire before returning to Flagstaff to design his own training regimen, with an eye toward to 2016 Olympics.
Asked what flag he would like to compete under in four years, Marial says he doesn't know, and appears sincerely torn.
"South Sudan bore me and raise me for all of those years," he said. "The U.S. welcomed me with open arms. They give me immigration. They give me freedom. They restored what I lost."
"At the moment I'll go day by day and see how it turns out four years from now."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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