In addition to helping fill the void left by the postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics, Runner‘s story of marathoner Guor Mading Maker provides a welcome reminder of the Olympic ideal.
For Maker, representing his nation created a personal ideological conflict that attracted worldwide attention. Director Bill Gallagher creates intrigue for that story by opening his documentary with Maker being asked at an Olympics press conference about his background.
Growing up in war-ravaged Sudan, Maker likely would have been slaughtered as an 8-year-old or groomed into a child soldier. (In a nice creative touch, Gallagher uses animation to portray Maker’s Sudanese backstory.) Running helped him escape.
To ensure his survival, Maker’s parents sent him to the U.S. with an aunt and uncle. As a refugee living in New Hampshire, a gym teacher recognized his talent as a runner and introduced him to the high school’s track coach. Maker’s success resulted in a scholarship to Iowa State University and eventual Olympic aspirations.
After qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics, Maker did not want to represent a government whose civil war killed eight of his siblings. Yet he wasn’t allowed to compete for the newly independent South Sudan, which hadn’t formed a national Olympic committee.
Gallagher’s narrative approach is choppy, but the inherent drama of Maker’s story compensates for that shortcoming. In turn, Runner demonstrates that athletes sometimes must overcome far more than physical limits and rivals in their endeavors, and how that struggle can be overwhelming.
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