Jake Bacon, Associated Press
Lopez Lomong, who grew up in a refugee camp, will try to become a U.S. Olympian.

EUGENE, Ore. — The song has driven Lopez Lomong for eight years, from a life ravaged by war and fear to one where hope and triumph are only a mile away.

It was 2000 then, when Michael Johnson was the Olympics' grandest star and news of his success had filtered into the remote reaches of Africa. Lomong had little use for the things his friends called the Olympics, but he ran five miles and paid five shillings so he could stand around a black-and-white TV and watch.

Only then, at the age of 15, did Lomong realize running could be for fun and games, not simply to escape and survive.

"This is a dream right here. I've been singing that song a long time," he said of the Star Spangled Banner he heard on the Olympic telecast that night.

Lomong was taken from his parents in Sudan at 6, then grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya until he was 16. He was brought to the United States after that to live a completely different sort of existence, and now he has his chance to pay something back to the country that changed, and maybe saved, his life.

On Thursday at U.S. track trials, the 23-year-old runner will begin the quest to become an Olympian in the 1,500-meter race — to wear the red, white and blue and to show others in his poor, war-torn native land that there is always reason to hope.

In 2001, a year after he heard that fateful song, Lomong was given a lifeline: He came to the United States as part of the Lost Boys program, settling at the lakeside home of Robert and Barbara Rogers near Tully, N.Y.

Lomong thrived in his new home, graduating from high school and emerging as one of the best young middle-distance runners in the United States.