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Campaign launched to fund documentary on South Sudan’s first Olympian

By Tom Law

March 19, 2013 (LONDON) - A campaign was launched on Tuesday to raise funds for a documentary about South Sudanese marathon runner Guor Marial, who competed at the 2012 London Olympics as an independent athlete as South Sudan is yet to form an Olympic committee.

Marial, who became a citizen of the United States in February, has not returned to South Sudan in over two decades since he was forced to flee the Sudanese civil war aged eight.

The fundraising campaign aims to raise $12,000 and $26,000 in order for Guor to travel with a film crew to visit his family in Unity State’s Parieng County and to be welcomed the government to the capital Juba.

In September South Sudan’s cabinet said the nascent state was ready to receive Marial whenever he manages to visit the country, which separated from Sudan in 2011.

The film’s director, Bill Gallagher, told Sudan Tribune on Tuesday the "fundraising campaign will give the film a kick and if we meet our goal it will literally get Guor on a plane back to his hometown in South Sudan for the first time in 20 years."

Marial ran away from a Sudanese army labour camp during the civil war and vowed never to run again because of the traumatic memories. However, years later, after he claimed asylum in the United States, he discovered he had talent for running long distances.

After qualifying for the Olympics in his first ever marathon the next challenge was to get to London 2012. After turning down an offer to represent Sudan and with South Sudan yet to establish an Olympic Committee Marial - after last-minute lobbying and a flurry of international media coverage - was granted special permission to compete as an independent athlete just weeks before the event.

Hearing of Marial’s inspirational story, Gallagher traveled to London to film his participation in the Games, with the intention of expanding the project into a full-length documentary.

"I am really excited about the film because I think it is a story that everyone can connect with" Gallagher said on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s fundraising launch.

"It is a story that makes you think ’well if Guor can go though what he did and be an elite athlete and make it to the Olympics, than really anything is possible’. He represents that hope in all of us that there is really no limits to our potential as humans. There was a point in his life when he didn’t have much hope of survival, he made it though and with hard work and some friends he became so amazingly successful, and he is only just beginning his journey toward success."

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Guor Marial outside the Olympic Village in London the day after running in the London 2012 marathon. 13 August 2012 (Tom Law/ST)

In the marathon on the last day of the Games in August, Marial came 47th out of a field of over 100 of the world’s elite with a time of 2:19:32. Marial told Sudan Tribune the day after race that he would have liked to have run faster but was at the wrong stage of his training cycle. He is hoping to go better in the Boston marathon next month.

However, for once it really was the taking part that counted with Marial’s story capturing the imagination of the world’s media and in many ways introducing South Sudan to world.

"I think one of the most interesting parts of this story is that some parts of the world don’t know much about South Sudan and this film is a way for people to learn," Gallagher said on Monday.


Details about the Kickstarter campaign can be found here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/billgallagher/runner-without-a-country