08 MAR 2012 General News

Hall of Fame Profile - Abebe Bikila (Ethiopia)

IAAF Hall of Fame - Abebe Bikila (ETH) (Getty Images)IAAF Hall of Fame - Abebe Bikila (ETH) (Getty Images) © Copyright

Abebe Bikila's marathon victory at the 1960 Olympic Games was the first time that an Olympic gold medal had been won by a black athlete representing an African nation.


His triumph in Rome became a beacon for the generations of African runners, particularly from East Africa, that followed in his footsteps in the subsequent decades.


Bikila ran barefoot through the Italian capital, an occasion made even more atmospheric by being the first Olympic marathon to be run at night, crossing the line in what was then a world best of 2:15:16.2.


Between 1960 and 1966, Bikila won 12 out of the 13 marathons he contested; his only loss coming at the 1963 Boston Marathon where he finished fifth.


Due to an appendectomy six weeks beforehand, Bikila was far from the sole favourite for the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo but he proved his doubters wrong in emphatic fashion.


Now wearing running shoes, he forced the pace from 15km and had a clear lead by the halfway point, eventually crossing the line in 2:12:11.2, which took nearly two minutes off the previous world best.


Bikila also started the 1968 Olympic marathon but had to drop out at 17km due to leg problems.


In 1969, he tragically suffered a broken neck and spinal cord injuries in a car accident that confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.


He died from a brain haemorrhage in 1973 at the age of just 41 but Bikila remains to this day an iconic name in athletics.