LONDON — The Olympian without a country is not without a budget.
Guor Marial shows up for an interview at the Olympic Village dressed in jeans and a polo shirt purchased from Target. He trains in old gear from Iowa State. He will run the marathon Sunday in shoes purchased online.
The Olympian without a country is not without feelings.
Guor Marial has painfully felt the differences while wandering through the first week of these Olympics without any national logo on his sweats, without teammates at his side during training, and without any real buddies except an advisor who serves as his coach, sports committee and roommate.
"It does feel, like, lonely," Marial says. "You're not wearing anything showing your country and people are like, 'Where are you from?' "
That part is easy. Guor Marial has arrived in London from the deepest, most passionate part of the Olympic spirit. He has arrived here from the ideals of a U.S. Olympic official, the passion of a Tribune sportswriter and the doggedness of a fellow runner.
This Olympian may be without country, but he is not without a home.
"The most amazing part, the best part, is just that I'm here," he says. "It feels like the entire world brought me here."
The entire world cut it close. Marial just showed up several days ago. He missed the opening ceremony because he wasn't sure he would be allowed into England. He was only officially entered in the games two weeks ago.
"It was tough, it was last-minute, but this is an example of people rising above the politics and doing what is good for sport," said Brad Poore, Marial's advisor who met him at marathon. "The right thing finally happened."
Marial, 28, was born in what is now the year-old republic of South Sudan. The country is so new, there is no national Olympic committee. When he recorded an official Olympic marathon time last fall, the International Olympic Committee urged him instead to compete for the neighboring nation of Sudan.
One big problem. Marial, lost eight of his 10 siblings during the civil war between south and north Sudan. As a child he was kidnapped and spent one year in Sudan as a laborer and another as an indentured servant. He escaped and was eventually granted refugee status, allowing him to move to New Hampshire with his uncle and cousin. He began running in high school, won a national indoor title at Iowa State, and moved to Flagstaff, Ariz., to train for his Olympic dream, all while vowing to never forget his nightmare.
He would never ever run for a Sudan government that nearly killed him and every member of his family.
"It is not right for me to do that," he told the Tribune's Philip Hersh. "It is not right for me to represent the country I refuged from."
Those quotes are from a blog that changed everything.
In mid-July, Marial and Poore had been continually spurned in their year-long attempts to find an Olympic home. The IOC would not budge. Marial could not budge. The duo finally contacted Team USA's ombudsman John Ruger, who couldn't really change anything, but figured he would try.
"I really do believe in the Olympic spirit, and this struck me as something had to be done," Ruger said.
When Tribune veteran Hersh called him on a different matter, Ruger instead told him the story of Marial. After 25 years on the Tribune's Olympic beat, Hersh knew what to do with it.