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NAU's Lopez Lomong is Heading to the Olympics

Courtesy of NAU Athletics Department

The Olympics are just about to get underway, but Lopez Lomong is not in London yet.

He’s returned to Flagstaff in order to finish his training.

Lopez says Flagstaff is the place that made him a world-class athlete, and he’s bringing some of his US teammates with him.

“It’s like I’m still a student here.  I still run the same trails, they’re still the same distances.  That’s why I’m bringing some of my friends, my teammates, the love of what Flagstaff has to offer to the world.”

Lopez is part of a group of US track and field athletes who are spending the final days before their events training in the high altitude of Northern Arizona.

While he may miss the Opening Ceremonies and other events, this last bit of training may help Lomong achieve that coveted gold medal.

“I would not be able to put my shoes on every morning without looking at that gold medal because everybody goes out and trains to be on that podium and to see your country be recognized internationally.”

Lopez doesn’t seem to mind the fact that he is missing Parade of Athletes through London’s new Olympic Stadium.

That’s partially because of his role in the 2008 Beijing Olympics Parade.

Bob Costas during NBC’s coverage of the Opening Ceremony:

“The flag bearer here is Lopez Lomong.  Born in Sudan, torn from his family at a young age.  He ended up in a refugee camp in Kenya.  Eventually he came to the US as one of the so-called ‘Lost Boys of Sudan’.”

Because of that life story, the US athletes voted Lopez as America’s flag bearer four years ago.

Lopez was born in the village of Kimotong, in what is now South Sudan.  At age six, he was kidnapped while attending church and held captive by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. 

After weeks in captivity, Lopez, along with three other boys, escaped the camp where they were to be made into child soldiers. 

They spent the next three days running until they reached the Kenyan border.  Lopez and the other boys were then placed in a nearby refugee camp.

In 1996, he walked several miles in order to watch the Atlanta Olympics on a small, black and white television.

That’s when he saw US sprinter Michael Johnson set world records in the 200-meter and 400-meter races.

“I watched Michael Johnson win that 400-meter, and people are taking pictures of him, cheering, and he went back to the podium and have his country’s flag on, and he cried.

The whole time I was like ‘Why did he cry?  He just won; he just beat everybody.  I want to be running as fast as that guy.’”   

At the age of 16, Lopez wrote an essay to the Catholic Charities about what he would do if given the chance to relocate to America.

He was given the chance and relocated to Tully, New York where the Rodgers family was waiting to take him in.

Lopez’s running career began at Tully High School, where he stood out.

He earned a scholarship to NAU.

There he won two championships before leaving school early to pursue a dream.

He became an American citizen in time to race in the 2008 Olympics.  He won a spot on the US team for the 1500-meter race, but a sore hamstring kept him out of the finals.

Since 2008, Lopez has returned to NAU as a student.  He finished his bachelor’s degree last year in Hospitality Management. 

He also spent time writing his book, Running for My Life, which was published this month.

The forward to the book was written by Lopez’s hero, Michael Johnson.

But Lopez still has one goal.

He wants to stand on the winner’s podium and receive a medal for his adoptive country.

“Now it’s everything.  All my dreams and everything I need to think about that podium.”

Lopez is scheduled to run the 5,000-meter semi-final on August 8th

The finals will be run on the 11th.

Lopez has the world’s fastest time in the event this year.  On April 29th, he ran the 5k in 13:11.63.

He set that time despite miscounting his laps and stopping with 400-meters to go.

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