|Marial came to the U.S. as a child refugee, but does not yet have American citizenship. (Cyclones.com)|
LONDON -- The IOC has cleared a marathon runner born in what is now South Sudan to compete under the Olympic flag at the London Olympics.
The IOC executive board agreed Saturday to allow U.S.-based Guor Marial -- a former refugee -- to take part as an independent athlete.
"The voice of South Sudan has been heard," Marial told 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."
Marial has no passport and is not represented by a national Olympic committee. South Sudan gained independence last year after breaking away from Sudan but doesn't yet have a recognized Olympic body.
Marial moved to the United States as a refugee when he was a child and even though he has permanent residence in the U.S., he isn't yet an American citizen.
That meant he was unable to compete for the United States, South Sudan or Sudan, the IOC said, despite qualifying for the Olympics last year.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said it was the first case of its kind for the Olympics.
When he was 8 years old, Marial escaped child slavery in a labor camp in Sudan. He is now 28 and lives in Flagstaff, Ariz. -- where he was preparing for training when he heard he was allowed to go to the Olympics.
"I was getting ready to go for a run. Wow. This is so exciting," he said. "It's hard to describe. I'm speechless. The body temperature is up. I have to train like an Olympian now."
The International Olympic Committee said three athletes from Netherlands Antilles also would be allowed to compete under the Olympic flag in London after the group of islands ceased to be an autonomous country.
Marial ran a time of 2 hours, 14 minutes, 32 seconds at the Twin Cities marathon last year, his first official race, to qualify for the London Games. He has improved on that time since.
A U.S. senator from New Hampshire, where Marial went to high school, also lent support to his Olympic bid. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen sent a letter to the IOC appealing for Marial to compete under the Olympic flag.
Marial attended high school in Concord, N.H., after fleeing to the United States. He graduated in 2005, earning an athletic scholarship to Iowa State University and became an All-American in cross country in his junior year.
He declined Sudan's invitation to compete under its flag because he didn't consider himself a citizen of that country. He said he doesn't want to compete for Sudan because he lost 28 family members during civil unrest.
The athlete's birth village is in what is now South Sudan and despite it being a newly independent state, it has struggled to form sporting bodies.
South Sudan was allowed in as the newest member of world football body FIFA in May but hasn't yet joined the Olympic family.
Athletes can take part at a games under the Olympic flag if politics has prevented them from doing so for a country.
At the 1992 Barcelona Games, competitors from Yugoslavia competed under the Olympic flag because of the break-up of that country, which left them with no national team. They didn't march at the opening ceremony but the Olympic flag was raised on their behalf during award ceremonies.
Four athletes from East Timor were allowed in under the Olympic flag in Sydney in 2000 because East Timor wasn't an independent country.
The IOC said this year that Kuwaiti athletes could compete as independents in the London Games after suspending the country's Olympic committee in 2010 because of government interference. They've since lifted the Kuwaiti ban.
Marial said he'll ask his father -- who still lives in South Sudan -- to travel to the nearest city to watch him on TV if he gets to compete at the Olympics.
"Most important is the people of South Sudan. They struggle so much, so if I can accomplish something, I can help," Marial said in an interview with AP on Friday. "That's why every morning, I get up, I put on my shoes and I train."