Friday, August 08, 2008

This is why I love the Olympics

The Olympics start tonight. In some ways they were more exciting during the Cold War, when national pride was on the line against the Soviet Bloc machine ("Do you believe in miracles?"), but there are still very inspiring stories.

One of the great honors for an Olympic athlete is to carry the flag in the opening ceremonies. The US team has many world-class, well-known athletes: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Michael Phelps, Dara Torres, Jeremy Wariner, the list goes on. But the captains of the US delegation chose distance runner Lopez Lomong:

Joseph Lopepe (Lopez) Lomong is one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan. He was kidnapped from his village in Kimotong at the age of six, escaped by tunnelling under the wire fence of his compound and spent three days on the run. Having fled across the border into Kenya, his home for ten years was the Kakuma refugee camp.

In Tully (population: 927), New York State, Roger and Barbara Tully saw the notice on the board of their local church highlighting the plight of the children of Darfur and offered themselves as foster parents. Joseph Lomong arrived on their doorstep seven years ago, enrolled in Tully High School, discovered a natural gift for athletics, became an NCAA champion in Northern Arizona University and surprisingly qualified for the Olympics by finishing second in the US trials. A year ago to the day of his Olympic selection, he was granted US citizenship. Last year, he returned to his village and saw his own grave, dug by his family in the absolute certainty that their son was no longer alive...

Lomong first discovered the Olympics when he spent five Kenyan shillings - a few pence - to watch a telecast of Michael Johnson’s victory in the 400m at the Sydney Olympics. “Now I’m running for America and I’m grateful for that,” he said. America is a land for everybody.”

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