Abebe Bikila and His Barefoot Marathons

Abebe Bikila was a marathon runner from Ethiopia, winning double Olympic gold medals: Rome in 1960 and at Tokyo in 1964. Abebe died in 1973 at the age of forty one because of troubles after having a motor vehicle accident. There’s a athletic field in Addis Ababa named after him. Google honored Abebe using one of their doodles on what could have been his 81st birthday celebration on 7 August 2013.

1960 Olympic Marathon at Rome:
Abebe had been a last minute substitute in the Ethiopian squad for the Olympics. Abebe had no shoes to compete in and Adidas, the official supporter simply had a few pairs remaining that didn’t fit him, therefore he ran the marathon barefoot (he previously had been running barefoot). Abebe won the gold medal in a time of 2hr 15min. Following the marathon, addressing an inquiry as to the reasons he competed without shoes, Bikila answered: “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 Abebe was operated on for an acute appendicitis and at one stage it was thought that he might be unable to run. He went on to win this marathon in a world record time of 2hr 12min, being the 1st runner to win two Olympic marathons. Abebe had been wearing Puma shoes in the race (which Abebe Bikila also ran in to come 5th in the 1963 Boston Marathon).

He is a light to mild heel striker with a few midfoot strikes also. Despite that, he is not overstriding and could crack a world record. Bikila is frequently idolized by the barefoot running online community as a idol for running the marathon without running shoes (together with other elite athletes). Pundits of this love to point out that he did compete faster and break a world record when using footwear.

As part of his legacy, the minimalist running shoe producer, Vibram FiveFingers have the Bikila label of their range named after him. Early in 2015, the descendants of Abebe Bikila reported they were taking a law suit against Vibram for registering the ‘Bikila’ title without having authorization.