1:20 PM EDT, July 21, 2012
LONDON – Professional journalists try to keep the proper distance from subjects we write about.
That ethical guideline does not prevent us from feeling human emotions about some of the subjects.
So I wanted to cheer early Saturday afternoon when I got this email from International Olympic Committee communications director Mark Adams:
"Heads up - they've approved the sth sudan athlete under the ioc flag....you might want to break the news to him."
The "sth sudan" athlete in question is South Sudanese marathoner Guor Marial, a refugee from the civil war in the Sudan whose story I had been the first to tell, in a Tuesday post on my Globetrotting blog that also appeared in Thursday’s print edition.
I did reach Marial an hour later in Flagstaff, Arizona, after having first called Brad Poore, the California attorney whose advocacy was critical in the IOC’s decision to let the runner compete in the London Games as an independent athlete. The role of notifying Marial was not appropriately mine.
“Brad is a hero, of course,” Marial said.
Indeed he is.
Poore met Marial at the Twin Cities Marathon last fall. He and Marial became friends quickly. Poore worked for months to find a way for the IOC to make a place for an athlete who was an Olympic "man without a country" because his newly independent homeland, the Republic of South Sudan, has yet to form a national Olympic committee.
And give some credit to John Ruger, the U.S. Olympic Committee ombudsman, who thought it would help if Marial’s case were presented in the mass media. Ruger gave me the tip about Marial when I called to ask for some detail about how Lopez Lomong – another civil war refugee from the southern part of the Sudan, now the independent country - - was notified he had been chosen U.S. flagbearer at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics.
The IOC wound up doing the right thing in recognizing Marial’s situation was exceptional and allowing him to run.
But there is no question who is the biggest hero in this piece.
It is a runner who never gave up hope when members of his family died in the civil war, when he was a virtual child slave to a Sudanese soldier, when his jaw was broken by Sudanese forces, when he fled to Egypt and wound up in New Hampshire as a 16-year-old refugee. He won a race for his life.
The IOC decision means Marial will be an "independent athlete," with no flag or national identification on his clothing.
"I am fine with that because I will be carrying South Sudan and its flag in my heart," Marial said. "All South Sudan will see me, and it will give my country hope in the world community."
Marial still needs to clear some bureaucratic hurdles to get travel documents he needs for London. Who would dare keep him from running another 26 miles, 385 yards in a journey that has taken him to a place where the entire human race can cheer?
Copyright © 2015 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC