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New Hampshire athlete will compete in London Olympics only a decade after escaping war-torn Sudan


(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) spoke on the Senate floor today to honor Olympic athlete Guor Marial, a refugee who escaped from Sudan only a decade ago and will now be competing in the marathon in London. Marial found asylum in New Hampshire after his escape, joined the track team at Concord High, and has become a gifted athlete. He qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games in only his second official marathon.

Guor initially believed that he would be unable to compete because he is not a full American citizen and his home country of South Sudan does not have an Olympic team. He refused to compete under the flag of Sudan, a country where many of his family members had been tortured or killed. Upon learning of Marial’s situation, Shaheen sent a letter to the International Olympic Committee urging them to approve his request to compete as an independent athlete running under the Olympic flag. His request was granted last week. 

Below are Shaheen’s remarks, as prepared for delivery.

Mr. President, tomorrow the attention of the world will turn to London as we witness the opening of the 2012 Summer Olympics.  Over 10,000 athletes representing 204 nations from around the world will be competing in hundreds of sporting events at the games of the 30th Olympiad.  Here in the United States, we will be cheering on the 529 U.S. athletes as they look to bring home the gold for the United States of America.

The Olympics no doubt will have countless stories of triumph and disappointment, competition and camaraderie.  I rise today to share a remarkable story about one particular athlete who will be competing at the Olympics. His story is one of inspiring triumph of character and spirit, but until just days ago—this Olympian had no flag to compete under.  

This story is about a talented young runner named Guor Marial whose mere survival in southern Sudan defied the odds.  Having escaped the bloodshed and violence in war-torn Sudan, Guor found his way to my home state of New Hampshire as a teenage refugee.

Mr. President, who could have imagined that in just over a decade, Guor would be applying for U.S. citizenship and traveling to London to compete in the Olympic marathon?

Guor was born in a town that is now part of the fledgling country of South Sudan.  Many of his family and friends, including his brother, were killed at the hands of Sudanese security forces.  Many more died of starvation or disease brought on by the violence and unspeakable crimes committed by these Sudanese forces.

Before escaping Sudan, Guor was a victim of violence on numerous occasions.  As a child, he was kidnapped from his hometown and enslaved as a laborer before eventually finding a way to escape and return to his family. Guor was severely beaten by the Sudanese police and had to spend days in a hospital to recover.  Finally, he was able to flee to neighboring Egypt to the north and eventually to the peace and safety of New Hampshire as a refugee seeking asylum.  

Guor arrived in my home state of New Hampshire in 2001, almost exactly 11 years ago. He remembers the day well and still considers New Hampshire his home. He lived in Concord, our state capital, moving in with the families of his friends, teammates and his cross country coach for two years in order to graduate from high school.

The contrast between Guor’s former life and his new life is stark. In Sudan, he was running in fear for his life. In New Hampshire, he was running for the joy of athletic competition and to be a part of a team.

Amazingly, in only his second official marathon, Guor ran fast enough to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. Given his unique situation, however, it looked like bureaucracy would triumph over bravery—and Guor might not be able to compete.

According to the rules of the International Olympic Committee, permanent residents of a country are not permitted to compete on that country’s team.  As a result, Guor can’t compete under the American flag because he is not yet a full citizen.  In addition, Guor cannot run for the newly recognized country of South Sudan because it is such a new country that it does not yet have an official Olympic Committee.

The IOC suggested that Guor compete as a member of the Sudanese Olympic Team, and the Sudanese government extended him an invitation.  He rightfully refused, saying that running for Sudan “would be a disappointment and an embarrassment to me and the people of South Sudan who died for freedom, including my brother.” Guor was not comfortable running on behalf of a country that tortured and murdered so many of his family members. That solution would be cruel and unacceptable.

After some pressure by Refugees International and other friends of Guor who wrote to the IOC on his behalf, we received the good news this week that the IOC Executive Board has decided to make an exception for Guor. He will run in the marathon as an Independent Olympic Athlete under the great Olympic flag.

I want to thank the International Olympic Committee for this appropriate ruling.  In addition, I would like to thank the U.S. Olympic Committee, the U.S. Department of State, and other friends of Guor who worked to make his participation possible.  As he runs under that five-ringed flag – long a symbol of hope for peace in our world – Guor will run with the support of his family, his New Hampshire supporters, Americans everywhere, and his new country, South Sudan.  I have a feeling that such support might even help him run faster.  

We are so proud of Guor in New Hampshire and proud that in the United States, someone who has lived through such tragedy and adversity can start a new life and rise to incredible heights.

Scott Hamilton, an American Olympic gold medalist, once said: “Most other competitions are individual achievements, but the Olympics Games is something that belongs to everybody.”  No matter the outcome in London, the story of Guor Marial and the adversity he has overcome belongs to everyone.  Win or lose, he will stand as a lasting inspiration for people around the globe and as a tribute to the greatness that is the United States of America.

The Olympic Games are about bringing people together.  It's about international cooperation and fierce competition. I am glad that Guor Marial will have a chance to run alongside the world's best athletes this summer in London.  His story of perseverance in the face of adversity is inspirational and what the Olympics is all about. Guor has gone to great lengths, literally to achieve all that he has.  

I look forward to welcoming him home as a true Olympic athlete.     

Mr. President, I yield the floor.