48 Facts About Abebe Bikila


Shambel Abebe Bikila was an Ethiopian marathon runner who was a back-to-back Olympic marathon champion.


Abebe Bikila is the first Ethiopian Olympic gold medalist, winning his and Africa's first gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome while running barefoot.


Abebe Bikila placed second on his first marathon in Addis Ababa, won twelve other races, and finished fifth in the 1963 Boston Marathon.


On March 22,1969, Abebe Bikila was paralysed due to a car accident.


Abebe Bikila regained some upper-body mobility, but he never walked again.


Abebe Bikila competed in both sports at a 1971 competition for disabled people in Norway and won its cross-country sleigh-riding event.


Abebe Bikila died at age 41 on October 25,1973, of a cerebral haemorrhage related to his accident four years earlier.

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Abebe Bikila received a state funeral, and Emperor Haile Selassie declared a national day of mourning.


Abebe Bikila is the subject of biographies and films documenting his athletic career, and he is often featured in publications about the marathon and the Olympics.


Abebe Bikila was born on August 7,1932, in the small community of Jato, then part of the Selale District of Shewa.


Abebe Bikila's birthday coincided with the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic marathon.


Abebe Bikila was the son of Wudinesh Beneberu and her second husband, Demissie.


In 1956, Abebe Bikila finished second to Wami Biratu in the Ethiopian Armed Forces championship.


Abebe Bikila was 27 when he married 15-year-old Yewebdar Wolde-Giorgis on March 16,1960.


In July 1960, Abebe Bikila won his first marathon in Addis Ababa.


In Rome, Abebe Bikila purchased new running shoes, but they did not fit well and gave him blisters.


Abebe Bikila, following Bertie Messitt, Bakir Benaissa, Arthur Keily, Aurele Vandendriessche, and Rhadi Ben Abdesselam.


Abebe Bikila's winning time was 2:15:16.2, twenty-five seconds faster than ben Abdesselam at 2:15:41.6, and breaking Popov's world record by eight tenths of a second.


Abebe Bikila was greeted by a large crowd, many dignitaries and the commander of the Imperial Guard, Brigadier-General Mengistu Neway.


Abebe Bikila was paraded through the streets of Addis Ababa along a procession route lined with thousands of people and presented to Emperor Haile Selassie.


Abebe Bikila was given the use of a chauffeur-driven Volkswagen Beetle and home, both owned by the guard.


Kihachiro Onitsuka suspected that Abebe Bikila had a secret sponsorship deal with Puma, in spite of the now-abandoned rules against such deals.


Abebe Bikila returned to Ethiopia and did not compete in another marathon until 1964 in Addis Ababa.


Forty days before the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Abebe Bikila began to feel pain while training in Debre Zeit.


Back on his feet in a few days, Abebe Bikila left the hospital within a week.

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Abebe Bikila entered the Olympic stadium alone, to the cheers of 75,000 spectators.


Abebe Bikila did not appear exhausted after the finish, and he again performed a routine of calisthenics, which included touching "his toes twice then [lying] down on his back, cycling his legs in the air".


Abebe Bikila was the first runner to successfully defend an Olympic marathon title.


Abebe Bikila received the Order of Menelik II, a Volkswagen Beetle and a house.


Abebe Bikila had injured his hamstring, an injury from which he would never recover.


Abebe Bikila returned in time to join the rest of the Ethiopian Olympic team training in Asmara, which has an altitude and climate similar to Mexico City.


Abebe Bikila was rewarded with a promotion to the rank of shambel upon his return to Ethiopia.


Abebe Bikila was freed from his car the following morning and brought to the Imperial Guard hospital.


Abebe Bikila was visited by Queen Elizabeth II and received get-well cards from all over the world.


Abebe Bikila was invited to the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich as a special guest, and received a standing ovation during the opening ceremony.


On October 25,1973, Abebe Bikila died in Addis Ababa at age 41 of a cerebral hemorrhage, a complication related to his accident four years earlier.


Abebe Bikila was buried with full military honours; his state funeral was attended by an estimated 65,000 people including Emperor Haile Selassie, who proclaimed a day of mourning for the country's national hero.


Abebe Bikila is interred in a tomb with a bronze statue at Saint Joseph Church in Addis Ababa.


Abebe Bikila began, and largely inspired, East African preeminence in long-distance running.


Abebe Bikila is a national hero in Ethiopia, and a stadium in Addis Ababa is named in his honour.


Abebe Bikila left his winning ring in a bathroom after he won the Olympic medal.


Abebe Bikila gave the ring to Yetnayet, son of the late Abebe when Yetnayet came to Kasama City in Japan in December 2019 as a guest of honour for the half marathon competition conducted in honour of his father.


Abebe Bikila has been featured in several documentaries about his life and the Olympics in general.


Abebe Bikila was the subject of Bud Greenspan's 1972 documentary, The Ethiopians.


Rambali pictures [Abebe Bikila] driving to training in his VW Beetle, only to be forced off the road by a group of students who are being chased by armed police.

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The facts uncovered by Judah point to a less poetic explanation: [Abebe Bikila] was last seen in a bar at 9 pm, the roads that night were wet and he was inexperienced behind the wheel.


Abebe Bikila is the subject of a 2009 feature film, Atletu, directed by Davey Frankel and Rasselas Lakew.


Abebe Bikila did not carry his shoes but wore them; he was not sponsored by Adidas but was perhaps secretly sponsored by Puma.