Abebe Bikila: Barefoot Marathon Winner

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Abebe Bikila: Barefoot Marathon Winner


I am going to present one of the most thrilling stories, one that is among the crown jewels of Modern Olympics. The story is about Barefoot Marathon Winner: Abebe Bikila, gold medalist in 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.

In late 1960s, Abebe Bikila was the only Olympic athlete that managed to win two marathons. Along side the courageous Ethiopian came only one athlete with the same performance: Waldemar Cierpinski (East Germany) in 1980. Abebe Bikila: Barefoot Marathon Winner

The man who inspired generations of Ethiopian runners, that created a hegemony in marathon races, went to Rome as an outsider, because there was a fierce competition between Sergey Popov, the record holder of that time; Abdesselem Rhadi of Morocco, who was the major contender due to the fact he won the international race that year and another Barry Maggee from New Zealand. But Bikila’s determination and willpower turned him into a fearless athlete.

Before the race, Bikila went to Adidas stand to get a pair of running shoes, but there were only 4 remaining, none that seem to fit to his feet. The Ethiopian decided to run barefoot, instead of running in smaller shoes. He was decided that no matter how hard will be for him to compete, Bikila will honor his country through total dedication. Abebe Bikila: Barefoot Marathon Winner

Abebe Bikila‘s coach, Onni Niskanen of Sweden, told him before the race to be aware to number 26, Abdesselem Rhadi, to stay near him until the last kilometer and then to unleash the final sprint.

Barefooted, after only 20 kilometers the Ethiopian managed to evade the group, being closely followed by only other athlete, number 185, who was Abdesselem Rhadi himself, who entered in the competition with a different race number. Not knowing how Abdesselem Rhadi looks like, the Ethiopian barefoot athlete tried to increase the pace in order to catch his rival. When there were only 500 m left, Abebe Bikila understood that he and number 185 were the only ones in front and decided to make the final move and increase the rhythm. Bikila easily won with an advantage of 25 seconds (nearly 200 meters in front of Abdesselem Rhadi). The barefoot marathon winner also established a new world record, finishing the race in 2:15:16.2 hours.

The barefoot marathoner from Ethiopia became the first black African to win a gold medal in any sport. Moreover, in 1964 in Tokio Summer Olympics, Bikila successfully defended his Olympic title, establishing a new world record: 2:12:11.2 hours, this time running with shoes and socks. But his will and determination proved again that the barefoot runner that won a gold medal 4 years earlier is unique: Bikila had undergone an appendectomy 40 days before the race from Tokio.

Abebe Bikila later on recalled his heroic race barefooted and stated that he decided to run without shoes the marathon because in his home country, Ethiopia, heroism and determination matters.

This was the tale of the barefooted runner who won the marathon race in Olympics, defying the odds and astonished an entire world with his desire to overcome any struggle, natural talent and determination. Abebe Bikila was the first Sub Saharan gold medalist in Olympics. I think that the barefoot marathon winner: Abebe Bikila had a biomechanical efficiency in his stride that was simply awe-inspiring.

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