The Barefoot Marathon Runner

Abebe Bikila
Abebe Bikila was a marathon runner coming from Ethiopia, winning double Olympic gold medals: Rome in 1960 and in Tokyo in 1964. He passed away in 1973 at the age of 41 because of complications following a motor vehicle accident. There is a athletic field in Addis Ababa named after him. Google honored Abebe using one of their doodles on which would have been his 81st birthday celebration on 7 August 2013.

1960 Olympic Marathon in Rome:
Abebe was a last minute replacement in the Ethiopian team for that Olympics. He had no shoes to compete in and Adidas, the official supporter only had a couple of pairs remaining that did not fit him, so he ran the marathon without running shoes (he had been running barefoot). Abebe won the race in a time of 2hr 15min. Right after the race, addressing a query as to the reasons he competed without running shoes, Abebe responded: “I wanted the whole world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism.

1964 Olympic Marathon in Tokyo:
Forty days prior to the marathon he was operated on for an serious appendicitis and at one stage it was considered that he might struggle to run. He went on to win this marathon in a world record time of 2hr 12min, becoming the 1st runner to win two Olympic marathons. Bikila was competing in Puma athletic shoes in the marathon (which Abebe also ran in to finish 5th in the 1963 Boston Marathon).

Abebe is an easy to mild heel striker with a few midfoot strikes also. Despite that, he isn’t overstriding and could break a world record. Bikila is commonly held up by the barefoot running online community as a hero for competing in the marathon without shoes (together with other high level athletes). Critics of this love to mention that he could compete faster and break a world record when using footwear.

As part of Abebe’s legacy, the minimalist athletic shoes producer, Vibram FiveFingers provide the Bikila model of their range branded after abebe. Early in 2015, the family of Abebe Bikila announced they were beginning a law suit against Vibram for registering the ‘Bikila’ brand without approval.


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