Abebe Bikila- Barefoot Marathon Champion

Posted

A shoe-less African running through the streets of Rome resembled a scene closer to the time of slaves and gladiators   than  the modern,  espresso-sipping day of Italy. 

But spectators who lined up to watch the marathon race at the 1960 Olympics in Rome were treated to just that:  an unknown barefoot Ethiopian racing  through their ancient city to win the gold medal.  Overnight, this son of a shepherd from rural Ethiopia was transformed into an international athletic sensation. 

Abebe Bikila was a last minute replacement for his squad and it was by accident that he was pounding the pavement with the soles of his feet- the pair of Adidas he was given hours before the race were either too small or too  uncomfortable.  So the 27-year old turned to his culture's traditional mode of locomotion, barefoot walking and running.  He ended up becoming not only the first sub-Saharan to win gold in the Olympics, but he also clocked the 42km race in record time of 2 hrs, 15 minutes and 16 seconds.  

In later years, other Olympians who tried to conquer the ground barefoot included Singapore's P.C. Suppiah at the 1972 Munich games, England's Zola Budd at the 1984 Los Angeles competitions,  and Kenya's Tegla Loroupe at the 2000 Sydney tournaments.  But none came close to winning a medal and none exceled in the marathon distance. 

Four years after Rome, Bikila went on to win the same race at the Tokyo Olympics, cutting his old record by over 3 minutes  but this time with his feet covered. 

In a cruel twist of fate, the dual-gold marathoner was left paralyzed following a car accident in 1969 and died four years later- the car he was driving was  a gift from Ethiopia's emperor Haile Selassie in recognition of his achievements.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

Shop For Our Books & DVD's

WEEKLY SPORTS PUZZLE

View larger Puzzle archive


THIS WEEK

10 years ago

BASKETBALL February 14, 2010  The NBA holds the 59th edition of its All-Star game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Eastern Conference beats the Western 141-131 with Dwayne Wade (Heat) scoring 28 points and winning the MVP award. Coaching the West was George Karl (Nuggets) and the East Stan Van Gundy (Magic). LeBron James (Cavaliers) topped the All-Star ballots followed by Kobe Bryant (Lakers).

20 years ago

FOOTBALL February 12, 2000 Tom Landry, first Head Coach of the Dallas Cowboys, dies at the age of the 75. Spending 29 seasons with the Cowboys (1960-1988), Landry racked up 20 winning seasons and two Super Bowl titles, VI and XII. The Texas native created many new formations and was voted Coach of the Year twice. In his early days, he played for the NY Giants and won the NFL championship in 1956.

30 years ago

BOXING February 11, 1990  Buster Douglas upsets Mike Tyson at the Tokyo Dome in Japan to win the undisputed world heavyweight boxing title. A 42-1 underdog, Douglas ended up knocking out an undefeated Tyson in the 10th round. The bout was widely seen as a warm-up fight for Tyson before taking on Evander Holyfield, the #1 heavyweight contender at the time. Douglas retired in 1999 with a record of 46-38-6-2.

40 years ago

OLYMPICS February 13, 1980  The Winter Olympic Games open in Lake Placid, New York. Thirty-seven nations send over 1,000 athletes to the quaint upstate village, which had hosted the event before in 1932. East Germany emerges with most medals at 23 (9 gold), followed by the USSR at 22 (10 gold) and the U.S. at 12 (6 gold). Americans secure gold in ice hockey, defeating the Soviets in what became known as ‘Miracle on Ice’.