US chose former Sudanese refugee as Olympic flag bearer

Society Materials 7 August 2008 07:31 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - Former Sudanese refugee Lopez Lomong has been chosen as United States flag bearer for Friday's opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

The choice of the 1,500 metres runner Lomong, in a vote by US team captains, will likely not please Sudan and its ally China.

"This is the most exciting day ever in my life," Lomong said in a statement by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) issued late on Wednesday.

"It is a great honour for me that my teammates chose to vote for me. The opening ceremony is the best day and the best moment of Olympic life."

Lomong, 23, fled a bloody civil war in Sudan at the age of six and spent 10 years in a refugee camp in Kenya as part of "The Lost Boys of Sudan" generation.

He eventually came to the US, gained citizenship last year, and qualified for the Olympics at the US trials last month along with Kenya-born world champion Bernhard Lagat and Mexico-born Leonel Manzano in the 1,500m.

"I'm here as an ambassador of my country and I will do everything I can to represent my country well. This is another amazing step for me in celebrating being an American," said Lomong.

The choice of Lomong for the opening ceremony watched by an estimated one billion people around the world could embarrass Sudan and China.

China has been criticised repeatedly for its role in Sudan, taking no action over the government's role in the conflict in Darfur where an estimated 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million are homeless.

China is a big investor in Sudan's oil industry and also supplies the country with arms.

The choice of Lomong came shortly after Olympic speed-skating champion Joey Cheek had his China visa revoked. Cheek is an initiator of the "Team Darfur" campaign