We all expect Usain Bolt and Lolo Jones to draw huge numbers to the TV screen during this year’s Olympics. They are outstanding athletes and most likely will get a spot on the podium, but there are also some absolutely inspiring runners who are competing this year who may not even finish 4th, or 5th, or 20th. I’ve put together a short list of runners to watch out for at this year’s Olympics, not because of their chances of winning, but because they have faced unbelievable challenges just to get to compete.
1. Oscar Pistorius
Country: South Africa
Event(s): 400m and 4x400m Relay
Pistorius, a native South African, was born without a fibia bone is either of his legs. At the age of 11 months, he had both legs amputated and was fit with prostheses. In six months, he was walking around just like any other kid his age.
His childhood was not easy. His parents divorced when he was 6, and his mother died of a drug overdose when he was only 15. In high school he began playing sports, beginning a lifelong relationship with his coach, who said it took him 6 months to even realize Pistorius didn’t have legs. Like Phelps and other Olympic greats, Pistorius’ body is designed to run. During races he runs on special blade-like prostheses called “Cheetahs” which has earned him the name “Blade Runner”. After much testing and scrutiny to see if prosthetics give any type of advantage, Pistorius will become the first paraplegic to compete in the summer Olympics. To read more click here and here.
2. Urige Buta
Event(s): Olympic marathon (26.2 miles)
Buta was smuggled out of his native Ethiopia when he was young. He father also tried to escape with him, but did not arrive with Buta in Norway. He had no ID, no passport and no citizenship. A local Norwegian running club sponsored him and got him out of a refugee camp after seeing him run. Within two years of coached training, Buta became the best marathoner in Norway. Buta still struggles with daily life. Even after receiving Norwegian citizenship, he works up to ten hours a day as a janitor in order to feed his wife and young child. Buta says that when he takes breaks from cleaning the school, he will work out for a while in the gym or weight room, just to try and fit in a little bit of training. He was granted a paid leave of absence from his janitor job in order to go to the Olympics, with the promise of more paid time off when he returns to focus on training. You can read more here.
3. Lopez Lomong
Country: United States
Lomong was kidnapped in Sudan at the age of six. He was thrown in a prison cell in anticipation of becoming a child soldier when he got older. One night, him and three other boys escaped through a hole in the chain link fence surrounding the compound. They ran for three days and three nights. Rescued by Catholic Charities, he spent 10 years in a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to the U.S. He moved to Eugene, OR and began running with the Oregon Track Club. He made it to Beijing racing the 5000m. Since then, he has paid the way for both of his younger brothers, who had still been living in a refugee camp, to come to the U.S. His brothers aspire to run just like him. Lomong is once again racing for the U.S. in the 5000m, and says he owes much to his adoptive country. He has also started his own charity “4 South Sudan” to raise money to educate Sudanese children. You can read more here.
4. Guor Marial
Country: South Sudan (not recognized by the Olympics)
Event: Olympic Marathon
Marial, like Lomong, survived the atrocities of Sudan as a child. He was kidnapped at 8 years old and forced to work in a child labor camp at gunpoint. He escaped in the middle of the night running for his life. He hid in a cave until dawn and then continued to run into the eastern sun. He made it to Egypt and eventually to the United States as a refugee before he started high school. He ran cross country in his new home in New Hampshire and went to college to run for Iowa State. Last year, at the age of 28, Marial qualified for the Olympic marathon after running a 2:14 at the 2011 Twin Cities Marathon. His problem, however was that Marial had no citizenship, no passport, and no one to represent in the Olympics. A New Hampshire senator made an appeal to the Olympic Committee to allow Marial to run under the Olympic flag. He refuses to run for Sudan, a country he says killed 28 of his friends and family. He would run for the newest, independent African country, South Sudan, but they do not yet have an Olympic board. The request for Marial to run under the Olympic flag was granted, and he will be one of four athletes to compete for no country, but for themselves. Marial hopes that his father, who still lives in South Sudan, will get the chance to watch him compete as an Olympian. To read more click here.
Hope you are as excited for the Olympics as I am and I hope that these stories inspire you to kick some hardcore asphalt on your next run! The Olympics start this Friday, July 27th. You can catch the marathon on the last day of the Olympics, August 12th.
Ashley is a geologist at Schlumberger, specializing in geologic modeling software. She completed her Masters degree in geology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is an avid runner, cyclist, and rock climber. She will pretty much race anything and everything. You can find her hanging out on White Oak in Houston, TX or climbing and running in Austin.