By Chris Lotsbom
NEW YORK (16-Mar) -- For Guor Marial, 2012 was all about awareness and making it to the Olympic Games. Working hard to gain the opportunity to compete in London under the International Olympic Committee flag, Marial became a world-wide celebrity, his inspiring story as a Sudanese refugee capturing attention all across the globe.
Now, recently granted USA citizenship and with the Olympics behind him, Marial is focused on taking the next step in his athletics career. No longer does the 28-year-old want to be known solely for his heart-warming story. He wants to be recognized as an elite athlete, eventually one of the top marathoners in the world.
"For me, the reason I fought to go to the Olympics was not because I was going to win. I had no chance," admitted Marial, talking with Race Results Weekly here on Friday. "It was for the message and to raise awareness of South Sudan and the issues in Sudan."
At Sunday's NYC Half, Marial looks to advance his career with a strong showing, aiming to lower his modest personal best of 64:21.
"Now this stage is for me, to want to be the best," he said passionately. "Instead of being just an Olympic athlete and someone who raises awareness through the media, I want to be someone like Wilson Kipsang or Bernard Lagat. I want to improve myself and not just go [out] there, but to win. To train hard and win. That's the thing for me now, to elevate myself to a different level."
Marial does look back on his Olympic journey with amazement and joy, honored to have been able to run the marathon.
"It was a great experience," he said with a smile. "Most important was the support that the whole world gave to me.
Nor his Olympic finishing place (47th) or time (2:19:32) mattered much to Marial. The chance to compete and spread the awareness of the violence in South Sudan --28 members of his family were killed-- and refugees world-wide was his main concern.
"Throughout the race, people from different parts of the world were cheering me on even though I was almost the last person. It was very special," he said. "Instead of me being concerned about myself, I was concerned about taking this opportunity to get this message out to the people so young kids can learn about it."
Now, more than seven months since he crossed the Olympic finish on the Mall in London, Marial is ready to begin a new chapter. His journey starts with Sunday's race through Manhattan and will continue at next month's Boston Marathon. Since moving to the United States twelve years ago, Marial has wished to race in both American cities.
"I've been watching the New York City and Boston Marathons since I was in high school, and it has been a dream to participate and be part of the elite and talented runners," he said.
As a high schooler in Concord, N.H., Marial took a trip with his coach to watch the Boston Marathon. After seeing Africans out in front of the field, Marial was inspired.
"I said I want to participate in this someday," he said. "It has become a dream for me to say I want to run this race."
Training alone in Arizona, Marial noted that workouts have been tough recently due to weather conditions. But, he still believes he can record a personal best on Sunday and in four weeks time in Boston.
"The goal is to be at least in the top ten and improve my [marathon] time from last year," he said. Surely if he does just that, Marial will be known not only for his Olympic story, but his talent on the roads.
"With all the support," Marial said, pausing for a moment, "having a race in front of my fans, family, relatives, and friends, it is just going to be special."
PHOTO: Guor Marial being interviewed by NBC's Lewis Johnson in advance of the 2012 Olympic Marathon (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)