London — Guor Marial, a marathon runner born in what is now the Republic of South Sudan, will run in the London 2012 Olympics but not wearing the flag of the newly independent country.
The 28-year-old athlete fled to the United States during Sudan's two-decade civil war, which in 2005 led to a peace deal allowing the southern part of the country to secede last year.
South Sudan is now a member of the United Nations, African Union and other international bodies but has not yet formed a National Olympic Committee, so it cannot send a team to the Games.
With the games opening on Friday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) initially suggested that Marial runs representing Sudan. The Sudanese team had invited him to join them but Marial who lost 28 members of his family in the war, told Reuters that he turned down the offer.
"I lost my family and relatives, and in South Sudan two million people died," he told Alert Net, Reuters' humanitarian news service, by telephone from his home in Flagstaff, Arizona.
"For me to just go and represent Sudan is a betrayal of my country first of all, and is disrespecting my people who died for freedom." Around two million people are estimated to have died and four million people displaced from the conflict.
With the two government's of both nations still trying to resolve their differences other many contentious issues, and a brief border conflict in April this year, relations are still tense.
Despite living and working in the US, the Iowa University chemistry graduate, who works with people with mental disabilities, cannot represent the US as he is not a full citizen and has no passport.
He said that he appreciated the Sudanese team's offer but told Alert Net on Tuesday that "the consequences of me representing Sudan are bigger than me going to the Olympics"
"At this level, as an athlete, I don't just represent my family, but the whole of South Sudan. It's a very heavy responsibility to carry. It's very important for me to make the right decision," he added.
Refugees International (RI) responded to the IOC's proposal that he represent Sudan by writing to the organisation's President, Jacques Rogge, requesting that he compete as an independent under the Olympic flag.
RI President Michel Gabaudan wrote: "Numerous members of Mr Marial's family have been killed by Sudanese security forces, and he himself has suffered serious physical abuse at the hands of Sudanese police."
"The threats against him are serious and were recognized as such when he gained refugee status in the United States. Therefore, asking Mr Marial to submit once again to Sudanese authority as an Olympic athlete is not acceptable."
Marial's personal best in a marathon is two hours 12 minutes 55 seconds was achieved in San Diego, California, last month. He is not expected to win a medal but could finish in the top 10 or 20.
Marial arrived in the US aged 16 having left Sudan two years earlier after he was attacked by Sudanese soldiers in his home on night.
"My dream is to represent South Sudan. It's just a matter of time."
On hearing that he had been accepted as a independent athlete he told Associated Press that "the voice of South Sudan has been heard."
"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."
Marial will be one of four independent competitors at the London Games. The three others coming from the Netherlands Antilles.
However, Marial's case is the first of its kind, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said.
Marial has less than a week to get to the UK capital to take part in the opening ceremony before his event on August 12, the last day of the Games. He has asked his father to travel to a town with a television so he can watch him compete.
Adams said that he expected Marial's backers to "move heaven and earth for him to get here for the ceremony."
Speaking of when he discovered he could go to the Olympics, Marial said: "I was getting ready to go for a run [...] Wow. This is so exciting. It's hard to describe. I'm speechless. The body temperature is up. I have to train like an Olympian now."
"I used to hate running. I was running back home to save my life," he said in an interview with AP.