Guor Marial, a marathon runner from South Sudan, has earned the right to compete in the London Olympics. Marial qualified for the games, which open today, when he finished a marathon in October in slightly less than 2 hours and 13 minutes. But his status was in doubt because South Sudan, which gained independence only last year, isn’t sending an official delegation to London.
Marial, who went to college and trains in the United States, couldn’t run as an American because he is not a US citizen. The International Olympic Committee’s initial suggestion that Marial compete for the team from Sudan — from which South Sudan just broke away after decades of civil war — made no sense. Last week, the committee said Marial could compete under the Olympic flag, just like athletes from East Timor did in Sydney in 2000. Thanks to that decision, Marial will be able to provide a lift to a country long locked in strife.
Even better, though, would be to let Marial compete as a South Sudanese athlete, even though his country lacks a national Olympic committee. For obvious reasons, putting together such a body hasn’t been at the top of South Sudan’s to-do list, but allowing Marial to carry the South Sudanese flag would be a source of pride for a struggling new country.