By Mike Smith
Now that school’s out and I slip into my second career as a part time summer farmer, my morning schedule consists of getting up, getting a cup of coffee and grabbing my phone to flip through my email, texts, Instagram and news before I head to work at 6am. This morning as I pulled up LetsRun.com to get my fix of info from the professional running world and the first article at the top of the home page was about a Sudanese refugee that turned down the opportunity to run in the 2012 Olympic marathon in London.
I didn’t click on the article because I was particularly interested in the story. While there’s a lot to be said about an athlete that survived and escaped the labor camps that were part of a civil war in Sudan at that time (Lopez Lomong, the 2019 USATF US champion in the 5K and 10K, four time Olympian and the subject of the book “Running for my Life” is a product of that conflict as well). It wasn’t because a 2:12 marathoner with the opportunity to run in the Olympics would turn it down, or the fact he did run in the 2012 Olympics under the IOC banner (International Olympic Committee) as he was unwilling to run for Sudan (South Sudan wasn’t recognized as an independent country at the time). Or that he would return to run in the 2016 Olympics in Rio and is hoping to run in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
The reason was the athlete in question, Guor Maker, ran cross country and track and field in New Hampshire for Concord High School.
The first time I remember seeing Guor, then going by Guor Majak, he was leading Meet of Champions as a tenth grader being shadowed by Russell Brown of Hanover. Brown, who had set the HS National record in the 800 that summer was content to let the younger runner set the pace where he then sling-shot around the final turn at the tree and sprinted for victory. Majak came in second, running 16:16. Remember, MOCs used to be at Derryfield Park. The young Majak had led every step of the race to that point trying to run the legs out of the national champion and he earned my respect that day.
The following year his nemesis was Portsmouth’s Cory Thorne. At the Class L meet, Thorne shadowed Majak just as Brown had the year before and used the same tactic to get by him for a two second victory, 15:43 to 15:45. The following week on the same course but with wetter conditions, Thorne was able to do the same thing, winning 15:53 to Majak’s 16:00. If I recall correctly, and I might not, Majak slipped at the tree adding advantage for Thorne as well.
In 2004, Majak and Thorne were tearing up the NH courses, both having college scouts knocking on their doors as we entered championship season. Thorne got away from Majak earlier in the race than the tree this time, running 15:21 to Majak’s 15:48. Having been the bridesmaid this many times, and so visibly so, I think everyone in the state of NH with the exception Thorne, his immediate family and his coaches, were pulling for Majak to win his final cross country race in NH.
And he did. Recognizing he didn’t have the speed Thorne possessed, he went out to the front and pressed every step of the way, finally able to pry his pursuer away, winning in 15:38 to Thorne’s 15:58.
Majak wouldn’t not run at New England’s that year, and only observing from afar I have no idea why. However what I do remember, and remember distinctly is an athlete who was relentless in pursuing their best performance in an effort to win. He had what appeared to be an effortless stride coupled with a willingness to take it to anyone who dared stay with him. And I only remember him at the front of a race, never hanging back and letting others set the pace.
So when I saw the article, I was interested to see what else I didn’t know.
Fortunately for me, the article is about a movie about Guor Maker (Murial) by filmmaker Bill Gallagher. The 87 minute film won best documentary at the Naples International Film Festival. Gallagher began the project during the London Olympics and has paired down 15 hours of footage for the film. The movie “RUNNER” debuts tomorrow via virtual cinema – available at this link.