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Clearing the final hurdles

Last modified: 8/10/2012 12:00:00 AM

Even now, after he finally arrived in London as an Olympic athlete, Guor Marial has obstacles to clear. The Concord High grad doesn't have a national team to train with as he prepares for Sunday's marathon. Most of his spare time is chewed up by media requests. And finding space to jog in the London traffic is a nightmare.

"Training in a big city is not ideal, but it is the same for everyone," Marial said in an email interview with the Monitor. "Victoria Park is very nice for training, and there is a very nice practice track for us to use."

But these are just minor obstacles for Marial. After all, he survived war, slavery and kidnapping as he escaped his native country - what is now South Sudan. He overcame language and cultural barriers when he arrived in New Hampshire to thrive during his time in Concord. And he fought through international layers of red tape to simply gain admittance to these Olympics as an independent athlete. So a few solo training runs in a city park and some interviews with the media hordes in London aren't likely to impede Marial, but Brad Poore isn't taking any chances.

"I'm trying to shelter him somewhat with the media, in terms of who we can fit into the schedule and that kind of stuff, because from a purely athletic standpoint, the ideal is if you can just rest and not talk to anyone," said Poore, the attorney who helped Marial reach these games and is with him now in London as a manager. "But because of his personality and because he's good at dealing with challenging situations, I don't think it's going to have any kind of negative impact on him. I think it would on a lot of people, but I don't think it will for him."

The same goes for Marial's training.

"He knows how to improvise," Poore said. "He's getting done what he needs to get done."

The entire preparation process has been improvised by Marial, who didn't find out until July 21 that he would be allowed to compete in the Olympics. He had been training for a marathon that will be held in October, and when he finally got word from the International Olympic Committee, he was forced to scrap that regimen, cut down on his workload and refocus on speed training. So his body is far from prime shape for Sunday's event, and even if it was, this will only be Marial's third marathon and he'll be facing a field of the world's best.

But, once again, these are small hurdles for Marial.

"Yes, I know that on paper I am a 2:12 runner running against 2:03 runners, but when the race starts it does not matter what anyone has done in the past," he said. "I don't have a set pace to run, but I will listen to my body and see how it responds in the race."

The former Crimson Tide star has been doing a lot of listening and responding recently. Marial, 28, has been on CNN, NBC and the BBC, and he's been featured in newspapers all over the world.

"I am very surprised by the media attention. We never expected this at all," Marial said. "The most exciting thing is to be able to raise awareness about South Sudan."

It was media attention that helped open the door to the Olympics for Marial. A piece by Phil Hersh of the Chicago Tribune was the starting point, and the story took off from there. Marial and Hersh met this week at the Olympic village and Marial told the Los Angeles Times, "He is a big, big reason I am here. It is amazing to finally see him." The feeling was mutual. The Times quoted Hersh as saying, "This feels about as good as anything I've ever done in my 40 years in the business." Nonetheless, all the media requests have not only cut into Marial's rest, they've also curtailed his sightseeing.

"It has not really been possible to travel around London because of all the interviews," Marial said. "I would love to explore London, but I think that will have to wait for another trip."

Marial has still been able to mingle in the Olympic village. The Facebook page for Poore's company, Fortis Sports Management, is loaded with pictures of Marial with various athletes. He said the two he was most excited to meet were Kenyan runners Asbel Kiprop and David Rudisha, who won the 800-meter gold medal yesterday in world record time. And in between training runs at Victoria Park, the onslaught of interviews and the rest mandated by Poore, Marial has managed to sneak in a few events.

"The Olympic Stadium is very impressive," he said. "The roar from the crowd has been amazing."

Since he has been in the world's spotlight, Marial will likely hear some roars coming in his direction on Sunday. He won't pick up the ones coming from Concord's Red River Theatres, which will host a free showing of the marathon Sunday beginning at 6 a.m., but he's glad to know his adopted hometown will be watching. At least he hopes it will be watching.

"I'm honored," Marial said. "I just hope that the theater is not empty!"

(Tim O'Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com.)'


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