Motivation: Abebe Bikila
( Olympic Marathon gold medalist who ran barefoot )
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Abebe Bikila was a two-time Olympic marathon
champion from Ethiopia. He was the first black African in history to win a
gold medal in the Olympics. He won Oympic marathon by running barefoot.
Abebe Bikila was born on August 7, 1932, the day of the Los Angeles Olympic
Marathon, in the village of Jato, located 9 kilometers outside the town of
Mendida, Ethiopia. His father was a shepherd. Abebe decided to join the Imperial
Bodyguard to support his family, and walked to Addis Ababa where he started as a
Onni Niskanen, a Finnish-born Swede, was hired by the Ethiopian government to
train potential athletes. He soon spotted Bikila.
Bikila was added to the Ethiopian Olympic team only at the last moment, as the
plane to Rome was about to leave, as a replacement for Wami Biratu, who had
broken his ankle in a soccer match. Major Onni Niskanen entered Bikila and Mamo
Wolde in the marathon.
Adidas, the shoe sponsor at the 1960 Summer Olympics, had few shoes left when
Bikila went to try out shoes and he ended up with a pair that didn’t fit
comfortably, so he couldn't use them. A couple of hours before the race, Bikila
decided to run barefoot, the way he'd trained for the race. Bikila was warned by
Niskanen about his main rivals, one of whom was Rhadi Ben Abdesselam from
Morocco, who was supposed to wear number 26. For unknown reasons, Rhadi did not
acquire his black marathon bib before the race, and instead was wearing his
regularly assigned track and field bib number 185.
The late afternoon race had its start point and finish at the Arch of
Constantine, just outside the Colosseum. At the start of the race the Australian
Ron Clarke made a comment to Bikila about running barefoot.
During the race Bikila passed numerous runners as he searched for Rhadi's number
26. By about 20 km, Bikila and Rhadi (actually wearing number 185) had created a
gap from the rest of the pack. Bikila kept looking forward to find the runner
with number 26, unaware that Rhadi was running right beside him. They stayed
together until the last 500 m, when Bikila sprinted to the finish line. Bikila
won in a record time of 2:15:16.2, becoming the first black African to win an
Olympic gold medal. He finished 26 seconds ahead of Rhadi.
After the race, when Bikila was asked why he had run barefoot, he replied, “I
wanted the world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with
determination and heroism."
In 1961 Bikila ran marathons in Greece, Japan, and the City of Kosice in
Czechoslovakia, all of which he won. Bikila entered the 1963 Boston Marathon and
finished in just 5th place—the only time in his career that he finished a
marathon and did not win. He returned to Ethiopia and he didn’t compete in
another marathon until the one in Addis Ababa in 1964. He won this race, taking
2:23:14 to complete the course.
40 days prior to the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, during a training run near
Addis, Abebe Bikila started to feel pain. Unaware of the cause of the pain, he
attempted to overcome this pain but collapsed. He was taken to the hospital
where he was diagnosed with acute appendicitis. He was operated on and shortly
thereafter and even during his recovery period he started jogging in the
hospital courtyard at night.
In 1964 Olympics in Tokyo he finished the marathon in a new world record
time of 2:12:11:2; 4 minutes. He was the first athlete in history to win the
Olympic marathon twice.
In 1969, during civil unrest in Addis, Bikila was driving his Volkswagen Beetle
when he had to swerve to avoid a group of protesting students. He lost control
of his car and it landed in a ditch, trapping him. He was freed out of the car
but the accident left him quadriplegic. He was operated on at the Stoke
Mandeville Hospital in England and his condition improved to paraplegic.
Niskanen convinced him to compete in archery competitions for athletes in
wheelchairs and Abebe joked that he would win the next Olympic marathon in a
Abebe was invited as a special guest to the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich where
he witnessed his countryman Mamo Wolde fail to match Bikila's twin marathon
victories; Wolde finished third behind American Frank Shorter. After Shorter
received his medal he went to Bikila to shake his hand.
On the 23 October 1973, Abebe Bikila died in Addis Ababa at the age of 41 from a
cerebral hemorrhage, a complication related to the accident of four years
earlier. He left behind his wife and four children. His funeral in Addis Ababa
was attended by 75,000 and Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia proclaimed a
national day of mourning for Ethiopia’s national hero.
Five years after his death, New York Road Runners inaugurated an annual award in
his honour – the Abebe Bikila Award, which is given to individuals for their
contribution to long-distance running.
( Reference Wikkipedia)