Sudanese-born Lopez Lomong led the U.S. athletes as they marched into China's National Stadium during the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics. VOA's Jim Stevenson has more on the 23-year-old track runner, who was one of the so-called Lost Boys of Sudan.
Joseph Lopepe (Lopez) Lomong was kidnapped from his village in Kimotong, Sudan, at the age of six. He escaped by tunneling under the wire fence of his compound and spent three days on the run. Lomong found himself across the border in Kenya, where he lived for 10 years at the Kakuma refugee camp.
He was able to make his way to the United States, where athletics became an important part of his life. The 1500-meter runner, who became a U.S. citizen last year, recalls his inspiration came from grainy television images of star American runner Michael Johnson at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
"We walked five miles to the only black and white television in that area," Lomong recalled. "And the first thing that came on was Michael [Johnson] running the Olympics with a USA jersey on. I tell you, he was fast. And I said I want to run as fast as that guy. And I want to run for that country. I want to wear that same uniform."
Lomong hopes he can pass along similar inspiration to young viewers of the Beijing Games.
"I hope I am here to inspire other kids that are watching other Olympics as I did in watching the Sydney Olympics," he said.
Lomong is excited to have the chance to mingle with other athletes at the Olympics and tell his story and about his new country.
"The whole world is coming together," Lomong said. "And I have to take this opportunity to meet everybody out there. That is what I am here for. I am just going to be a good ambassador for my country."
Lopez Lomong was a victim of the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan. He has been critical about Chinese cooperation with the government in Sudan, which ultimately mapped his circuitous and perilous journey to freedom. Lomong's teammates selected him to carry the U.S. flag for the Opening Ceremonies. And he hopes that symbol will provide inspiration well beyond the actual competition.