South Sudan marathon runner Guor Mading Maker has been forced to resort to crowdfunding to raise his civil war-torn nation’s flag for the first time at the Olympics.
Maker ran under the Olympic colours at the 2012 London Games because his country had only just won its freedom from Khartoum after decades of war.
But there is little chance of securing funding from South Sudan for the Rio Games in 2016 after war broke out again there last December. Since then tens of thousands have been killed and aid agencies say the country is on the brink of famine.
Maker is seeking $25,000 to achieve his dream, with the money enabling him to train in neighbouring Kenya’s high-altitude Rift valley and bring some fellow South Sudanese athletes with him.
“To achieve my goals I need to follow the right programme, in the right environment, and above all have financial assistance for the next two years,” 30-year-old Maker said.
“A little donation can make big difference,” he said in a message on the crowdfunding website gofundme.com. “I believe with your kind support, I could help bring a long lasting unity to the people of South Sudan through sport.”
Currently based in the United States, Maker came 47th in the London 2012 marathon as an independent Olympian — under the name Guor Marial — with a time of 2:19:32, and has a personal best of 2:12:55.
At the time of the London Games, South Sudan had not yet been accepted as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
“I returned from the Olympic Games with great experience and determination to train hard for the World Championship in 2015 and the 2016 Olympic Games,” he said.
– ‘Lost Boys’ –
“With enough funding, I can go to Kenya and focus on training until the Olympic Games. With more funding, I can bring along five to six South Sudanese runners to train with me.”
Those who have donated so far include Meb Keflezighi, an Eritrean-born American and winner of the 2014 Boston marathon and Olympic silver marathon medallist in 2004.
Like thousands of others, Maker fled fighting during the 1983-2005 war that paved the way for South Sudan’s independence, one of a generation dubbed the “Lost Boys”. He was forced to flee his home village in 1993, and was granted residence in the United States in 2001.
Maker visited South Sudan for the first time since leaving last year, and — despite fearing he was an orphan — was reunited with his mother after two decades without contact.
Sporting stars who hail from South Sudan include the late Manute Bol, equal tallest ever player for the National Basketball Association (NBA) at seven foot seven inches tall (231 centimetres), as well as Luol Deng, who plays for Miami Heat.
Fellow South Sudanese “Lost Boy” and middle distance runner Lopez Lomong, now a US citizen, was the flag bearer for the US Olympic team in 2008.
The Rio Olympics take place from August 5-21, 2016.