Tokyo, 24 October 1964: Abebe BIKILA from Ethiopia, 1st, at the end of the marathon race. Credit: IOC Olympic Museum Collections
Born: 7 August 1932
Deceased: 25 October 1973
Birthplace: Jato (Ethiopia)
ATTENDANCE AT THE OLYMPIC GAMES
The Barefoot Runner
Abebe Bikila was born in Ethiopia on 7 August 1932, the day of the Los Angeles Olympic marathon. Twenty-eight years later, he entered the marathon at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. He and his coach, Onni Niskanen, decided that Bikila, who ran barefooted, should make his final move a little more than one kilometre from the finish line.
It was at this point that the course passed the obelisk of Axum, a monument that had been plundered from Ethiopia by Italian troops and hauled away to Rome. When Bikila reached the obelisk, he was running even with Rhadi Ben Abdesselem of Morocco. Bikila successfully pulled away and won by 200m. Although no one had ever won the marathon twice, Bikila returned to the Olympics in 1964, even though he had undergone an appendectomy 40 days before the race. This time he ran with shoes and socks.
Bikila took a clear lead by the halfway mark and steadily pulled away to win by more than four minutes. His time, 2 hours 12 minutes 11.2 seconds, was a world best for the marathon.