A is for Abebe Bikila

July 28, 2013

Abebe Bikila is an Ethiopian runner who won the gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympic marathon, running barefoot. He won the 1964 Tokyo Olympic marathon running in shoes in world record time.

Abebe Bikila was an Ethiopian long-distance runner who became a global sports icon and is widely recognized as one of the greatest marathon runners in history. He was born on August 7, 1932, in Ethiopia and passed away on October 25, 1973, at the age of 41.

Bikila gained international fame when he won the marathon at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy. What made his victory remarkable was the fact that he competed and won the race while running barefoot. It was the first Olympic marathon victory for an African athlete and the first time a black African had won an Olympic gold medal.

At the 1960 Olympics, Bikila’s achievement was particularly inspiring because he had not been selected to represent Ethiopia initially. However, due to the poor performance of another Ethiopian runner, Bikila was given the opportunity to compete. Without access to suitable running shoes, he decided to run the race barefoot and went on to win in a time of 2 hours, 15 minutes, and 16.2 seconds, setting a new world record.

Bikila’s triumph in Rome propelled him to international fame and made him a symbol of African athleticism and endurance. He became the first African to win the Boston Marathon in 1961, and he repeated the victory in 1962. He also competed in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, where he won a second gold medal in the marathon, this time wearing running shoes.

Tragically, Bikila’s running career was cut short by a spinal injury sustained in a car accident in 1969, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. Despite his injury, he remained an inspirational figure and an advocate for disabled athletes. He took up wheelchair racing and competed in the 1970 Stoke Mandeville Games, a precursor to the Paralympic Games.

Abebe Bikila’s legacy extends beyond his athletic achievements. He became a symbol of African excellence and determination, breaking barriers and inspiring generations of athletes. His success, particularly his barefoot victory in Rome, is remembered as a legendary moment in sports history, and he continues to be celebrated as one of the greatest marathon runners of all time.


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