Like everyone else, we want Delilah DiCrescenzo to qualify in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, because she's that Delilah—the "Hey There Delilah" Delilah. The Delilah who in 2005 inspired a monster radio hit and, in 10 years, will inspire the question, "What ever happened to the Plain White T's"? We'll root for her because pop culture icons are important, especially those who run fast and jump hurdles over long distances.
But there's somebody we're rooting for even more. Lopez Lomong.
Lomong's story has been told before, but it never ceases to astonish. He told it again at a press gathering on a rest day here at the trials. In 1991, Sudanese soldiers snatched the 6-year-old Lomong from his church in his village of Kimotong, part of the madness Sudan's civil war. He was taken in a truck to a prison camp, but a few days later escaped with three older boys through a hole in the fence. He and his friends ran for days, not knowing where, before being picked up on the Kenyan border. He spent the next 12 years in a refugee camp in Kenya, believing that his parents and siblings were dead. He often subsisted on one meal a day, but recalled yesterday the joy he felt in 2000, when he forked over 5 shillings to go see something called the Olympics on a black-and-white TV several miles from the camp. On that day, he watched Michael Johnson win the 400 meters. "That was the start of my dream," he says. "I wanted to run like that man."
He learned in 2001 of a project to send 3,500 refugees to the U.S., many of them Sudanese "Lost Boys" like himself. Not long after, he got the news that would change his life. He left for his new home, with an adoptive family in Tully, N.Y.
He discovered a gift for running, earned a scholarship to Northern Arizona, won the NCAA 1,500-meter title in 2007, and is now given a great shot at winning one of the three 1,500 slots this week in Eugene.
He hasn't forgotten where he came from. He is active in Team Darfur, which seeks to use the Olympics to pressure the Chinese government to stop selling arms to the genocidal Sudanese government. "I want to send a message to the Khartoum government to not kill or bomb Darfur, and let the people have their own lives," he says. "And China, which is sending guns to the Khartoum government, it needs to stop that."
One reason he's worked so hard to make the U.S. team and run in Beijing? "I would like to be on the podium and hold up a U.S. flag in one hand and a Sudan flag in the other," he says, "and show the Chinese government and the people that one of these victims is here."
Lomong finally regained contact with his family in 2003. Last year, for the first time, he visited them; they all survived the war. He saw the stone "grave" his family and friends had erected in his memory. For a dozen years, they thought he was dead. He thought they were dead. Together, they dismantled the memorial.
Lopez Lomong begins his quest for Beijing in the prelims of the 1,500 on Thursday night.