Abebe Bikila

Abebe Bikila in Amsterdam, 1968 (Wikimedia Commons, Nationaal Archief, CC0 1.0)On 7 August 1932, Ethiopian marathon runner and Olympic marathon champion Shambel Abebe Bikila was born in Shewa. He is the first Ethiopian Olympic gold medallist, winning his first gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome while running barefoot. At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, he won his second gold medal. In turn, he became the first athlete to successfully defend an Olympic marathon title. In both runs, he set a world record.

Abebe moved to Addis Ababa around 1952 and joined the 5th Infantry Regiment of the Ethiopian Imperial Guard, an elite infantry division that safeguarded the emperor of Ethiopia. Enlisting as a soldier before his athletic career, he rose to the rank of shambel (captain). Abebe participated in a total of sixteen marathons. He placed second on his first marathon in Addis Ababa, won twelve other races, and finished fifth in the 1963 Boston Marathon. In July 1967, he sustained the first of several sports-related leg injuries that prevented him from finishing his last two marathons.

On March 22, 1969, Abebe was paralysed due to a car accident. He regained some upper-body mobility, but he never walked again. While he was receiving medical treatment in England, Abebe competed in archery and table tennis at the 1970 Stoke Mandeville Games in London. Those games were an early predecessor of the Paralympic Games. He competed in both sports at a 1971 competition for the disabled in Norway and won its cross-country sleigh-riding event. Abebe died at age 41 on October 25, 1973, of a cerebral hemorrhage related to his accident four years earlier. He received a state funeral, and Emperor Haile Selassie declared a national day of mourning. Many schools, venues, and events, including Abebe Bikila Stadium in Addis Ababa, are named after him. He is the subject of biographies and films documenting his athletic career, and he is often featured in publications about the marathon and the Olympics.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Selected publications

Abebe Bikila

Abebe Bikila en 20 andere mooie verhalen uit 20 jaar Runner's world. - Amsterdam : Uitgeverij De Arbeiderspers, [2014]

Contemporary Conversations: The Athlete [Special Section] / edited by Carli Coetzee.
In: Journal of African cultural studies, 2013, Vol.25 (1), p.103-121

Bikila : Ethiopia's barefoot Olympian / Tim Judah. - London : Reportage Press, 2008

Barefoot runner : the life of marathon champion Abebe Bikila / Paul Rambali. - London : Serpent's Tail, 2006

Triumph and tragedy : a history of Abebe Bikila and his marathon career / Tsige Abebe. - [Ethiopia] : T. Abebe, ©1996

Ethiopian athletics

East African running : toward a cross-disciplinary perspective / Yannis Pitsiladis. - London : Routledge, 2007

Endurance / Leslie Woodhead; Haile Gebrselassie. - [Brussel] : Canvas, 2006

The institutional organization of Ethiopian athletics / Bezabih Wolde; Benoît Gaudin.
In: Annales d'Éthiopie , vol. 23, p. 471-493, 2007/08

Universal Newsreel footage of the 1964 Olympic Men's marathon (via Wikimedia Commons)

Timeline of Ethiopian male marathon runners via Wikidata and DBpedia