Reference Entry

Bikila, Abebe 1932–1973 Ethiopian runner who won two Olympic gold medals in the marathon.

Robert Fay

in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Second Edition

Published in print January 2005 | ISBN: 9780195170559
Bikila, Abebe 1932–1973 Ethiopian runner who won two Olympic gold medals in the marathon.

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Abebe Bikila was born in Mout, Ethiopia. Before competing as a runner he was a member of the imperial bodyguard of Haile Selassie I, the Ethiopian emperor. The marathon at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Italy was only Bikila’s third race at this distance, but he set a new world best time of 2 hours 15 minutes 16.2 seconds. The designation world best is used instead of record because marathon courses differ greatly and comparison of finish times is difficult. Bikila also attracted attention by running barefoot.At the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, Bikila, no longer competing barefoot, became the first runner to win the Olympic marathon twice. He finished with a new world best time of 2 hours 12 minutes 11.2 seconds. His previous mark had been broken several times between the Olympic games. Bikila competed in the marathon at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, but he dropped out after about 16 km (about 10 mi) because of an injury. His Ethiopian teammate Mamo Wolde went on to win the race. In 1969 an automobile accident left Bikila paralyzed below the waist, and he died of a brain hemorrhage four years later. During his career Bikila won twelve of the fifteen marathons he entered, an outstanding accomplishment. Since then many Ethiopian distance runners have followed in Bikila’s record-breaking footsteps, including Fatima Roba, who in 1996 became the first Ethiopian woman to win a gold medal in the Olympic marathon event. Bikila’s career marked the beginning of a period of excellence by Ethiopian runners at longer distances.

Reference Entry.  293 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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