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BEIJING 2008

A Lost Boy who found running shares his story

August 08, 2008|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING -- U.S. flag bearer Lopez Lomong told his heart-warming story in a spellbinding meeting with the media here this morning but artfully danced around the political questions.

Lomong, one of the so-called Lost Boys of Sudan, not only was rescued from his Kenyan refugee camp by a U.N. program that sent him to live with a family in upstate New York at age 16, but also qualified for the U.S. team in the 1,500 meters and inspired his Olympic teammates to elect him their flag bearer.

He described being torn away from his family during church services -- "from 8 a.m. Mass," he said.

"I was the happiest kid in Sudan," he added. "I was 6 years old, and we had food and we ran and played."

He described being blindfolded and carted away in "a truck covered with canvas."

When he left, he said, there were boys and girls on the truck. When they ushered him into a large room with no windows and a roof, "there weren't any girls then."

He eventually got to America, became a runner and then a star at Northern Arizona University. He qualified for the U.S. Olympic team by finishing third in the 1,500 trials July 6, exactly a year after he became a naturalized citizen.

Tonight, in front of the world, he will lead a U.S. contingent in front of a world not only tuned in for the pomp and ceremony, but also to ponder host country China.

And that's where the political issues arise, and where Lomong is walking on eggshells.

One of the issues facing China from the start of its acceptance as an Olympic host has been its record on human rights. And one of the key concerns has been the Darfur region of Lomong's home, Sudan.

More than 75 Olympic athletes have signed up as a part of a group called Team Darfur, with the intention of bringing attention to perceived Chinese abuses in that area.

Lomong was among those who signed up, as was the group's leader, gold medal-winning U.S. speedskater Joey Cheek. When Cheek's visa to come to China was denied this week, the political stakes increased.

But Lomong stayed above that fray today.

When asked about Cheek, he said, "I'm disappointed that Joey is not here. He's supposed to be here. He is an Olympian. I'm here to be an ambassador of a country. I lived in that life before. I didn't come here for a government. I just hope I'm here to inspire other kids like I was."

When asked his feelings about China, Lomong responded: "I hope to inspire a Chinese kid out there."

--

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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