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

BASEBALL July 13, 2010  The NL beat the AL 3-1 in the All-Stars exhibition game. Held at Angel Stadium of Anaheim in California, the game was preceded with a short memorial honoring George Steinbrenner who had died early that morning. The AL fielded the likes of Derek Jeter (SS-Yankees), Ichiro Suzuki (OF-Mariners) and Mariano Rivera (P-Yankees), while the AL brought out David Wright (3B-Mets), Albert Pujols (1B-Cardinals) and Roy Halladay (P-Phillies).

20 years ago

SOCCER July 2, 2000  France defeats Italy 2-1 at the UEFA European Championship. It was their 2nd title at the quadrennial extravaganza, which has been held since 1960 to determine the continent’s best national team; Germany and Spain are tied at the top with 3 wins each. One of the most exciting finals in tournament history, France equalized a goal in the closing minute of official time to send the game into overtime and then land a ‘golden goal’ in sudden death.

30 years ago

TENNIS July 7, 1990  Martina Navratilova claims a record 9th Wimbledon singles title after defeating her American opponent, Zina Garrison, 6-4, 6-1. It was Navratilova’s last career grand slam singles after compiling 17 victories since her first one at Wimbledon in 1978. Considered one of the greatest female athletes in the game, the Czech-born and U.S.-naturalized tennis star was ranked No. 1 in singles for a total of 332 weeks, and No. 1 in doubles for a total 237 weeks.

40 years ago

BOXING July 7, 1980  Larry Holmes knocks out Scott LeDoux in the 7th round to retain his WBC Heavyweight title. It was the 35th professional and undefeated bout for the Georgia native who swung one of the fiercest left jabs in boxing history. Holmes battled the greatest heavyweights of his era and he would defeat Muhammad Ali in the 10th round just 3 months after his encounter with LeDoux. The “Easton Assassin” retired in 2002 after posting a career record of 75-69-6.