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Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012

ODDS AND EVENS

Marial epitomizes the Olympic spirit


Staff writer

LONDON — There are more than 10,000 athletes listed as participants in the London Olympics.

Ed Odeven

The sheer volume of athletes from some nations is staggering. There are 556 from the United Kingdom, 531 from the United States, 435 from Russia, 413 from Australia, 370 from China and 303 from Japan.

There are two apiece from the following: Bhutan, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Mauritania, Nauru, Sao Tome & Principe, Sierra Leone and Somalia.

In addition, four are listed as Independent Olympic Athletes, or IOAs.

Men's 400-meter runner Liemarvin Bonevacia, judoka Reginald De Windt and sailor Philipine van Aanholt are from the country formerly known as Netherlands Antilles, which was dissolved.

The trio's home island in the Caribbean, Curacao, has been known as a "constituent country" of the Netherlands since Oct. 10, 2010.

News photo
In limbo: Marathoner Guor Marial (175), seen here representing Iowa State in a Big 12 meet in 2008, is one of several athletes at the London Games participating as independents. AP

It's not enough time to be recognized by the IOC, and so Bonevacia, De Windt and van Aanholt were granted the right to compete as individuals at the Olympics.

Bonevacia, De Windt and van Aanholt marched under the Olympic flag at Friday's Opening Ceremony. Men's marathoner Guor Marial, who was born in Panrieng, Sudan, which is now part of South Sudan, a nation formed in July 2011, is not yet in London.

De Windt, an 81-kg competitor, listed judoka Kosei Inoue as his hero in a May interview with curacaosport.com. Van Aanholt is competing in the sailing's laser radial event. Speaking Dutch, English and Spanish, she was the fifth-place finisher at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Nike, the sports shoe and apparel giant, played an integral role in clothing the foursome for the Opening Ceremony.

Of the four, Marial's story is the most dramatic — an epic tale, really, that may someday be turned into a lengthy documentary and/or autobiography.

His story gives a revealing look into the 28-year-old man's mind-set and the greater context of the political turmoil and devastation of war that has affected his life in a profound way.

Marial fled Sudan due to a brutal decades-long civil war and famine, but not before experiencing unimaginable torment and heartbreak.

At age 8, he "was kidnapped at gunpoint . . . and taken to a labor camp," The Los Angeles Times reported."

"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."

According to published reports, Marial lost 28 family members, including eight brothers, during war and upheaval in Sudan.

Gaining political asylum in Egypt at age 15, he finally began to experience some peace and stability in his life. He wound up in New Hampshire, where he attended high school and demonstrated enough potential as a runner to receive an athletic scholarship from Iowa State.

There, as a college junior, he earned All-American accolades.

Marial lives and trains in Flagstaff, Arizona. He made his marathon debut at the 2011 Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota, qualifying for the Olympics with a time of 2 hours, 14 minutes, 32 seconds.

He's now the most unlikely competitor for the Aug. 12 marathon in London.

Though he lives on American soil, Marial is a symbol of South Sudan's beginnings, a symbol of hope and inspiration after the tragedy of war.

"The voice of South Sudan has been heard," Marial said, according to 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."



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