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Abebe Bikila

Birthplace: Jato near Mendida, Ethiopia
Death: Died in Ethiopia
Cause of death: Cerebral hemorrhage
Immediate Family:

Son of Bikila Waqjira and Ato Bikila Waqjira
Husband of <private> Giorghis
Father of <private> Abebe; <private> Abebe; <private> Bikila and <private> Abebe
Brother of <private> Bikila

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

    • <private> Giorghis
    • <private> Abebe
    • <private> Abebe
    • <private> Bikila
    • <private> Abebe
    • <private> Bikila

About Abebe Bikila

Abebe Bikila (አበበ ቢቂላ) (August 7, 1932 – October 25, 1973) was a two-time Olympic marathon champion from Ethiopia.

Abebe Bikila grew up in a typical village setting and received some church education. As a youth he was a good swimmer, Gena player, (a type of hockey played during Christmas), and horse rider. He moved to the capital city, Addis Ababa, when he was 17 and began a military carrier in the imperial bodyguard regiment.

There is an image if Abebe Bikila with his wife and daughter Tsige at but his wife is not named.

Abebe Bikila's victory at the 1960 Olympic Games marathon was the first time that an Olympic gold medal had been won by a black athlete representing an African nation. Bikila prepared so intensely for the 1960 Games that he suffered a blister on his foot only days before the competition. Abebe decided to run the marathon in bare feet. The race was started at Campidglio Square and a barefooted Abebe did not run with the leaders until the 15-kilometer mark, where he started to gain momentum. By the 20-kilometer mark, only Abebe and Abdesselem Rhadi of Morocco were leaders. Rhadi was considered among the favorites for gold. At the 35-kilometer mark Abebe and Rhadi were running neck and neck. But with 1 kilometer left, Abebe pulled away, crossing the line in what was then a world best of 2:15:16.2 setting a new record about eight minutes quicker than the old record.

The marathon in Rome was the first Olympic marathon to be run in the evening in order to avoid the stifling summer heat. Abebe's triumph in Rome became a beacon for the generations of African runners that followed in his footsteps in the subsequent years.

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

Abebe sealed his name in the record books at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Due to an appendectomy six weeks before the games, Bikila was far from the sole favourite. Running in shoes, he ran with the leaders of the pack right from the start. At the 20-kilometer mark, he pulled himself away from the front runners, and from that point on never looked back. He won gold with a time of 2 hours 12 minutes 11.2 seconds, beating his own record set in Rome. When he crossed the finish line, he showed no signs of fatigue but simply performed stretching exercises. Abebe became the first man in history to win back-to-back marathons.

Bikila started the 1968 Olympic marathon in Mexico City. Although confident that he could do it a third time, he dropped out of the race at the 15-kilometer mark (some reports say 17), due to a leg injury. It is reported he told fellow Ethiopian runner Mamo Wolde, "I cannot continue running because I am seriously ill. The responsibility of winning a gold medal for Ethiopia is in your shoulder." At that point Wolde took the lead, and won the gold medal.

In 1969, he suffered a broken neck and spinal cord injuries in a car accident that confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Abebe strengthened his hands and became skilled as an Archer. (See In 1970, he participated in a 25KM cross-country sledge competition in Norway, where he won the gold.

Abebe was invited as a special guest to the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich where he witnessed his countryman Mamo Wolde fail to match Bikila's twin marathon victories; Wolde finished third behind American Frank Shorter. After Shorter received his medal he went to Bikila to shake his hand.

Abeke Bilila died from a brain haemorrhage in 1973 at the age of just 41 but Bikila remains to this day an iconic name in athletics. He left a wife and four children.

His funeral in Addis Ababa was attended by 75,000 and Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia proclaimed a national day of mourning for Ethiopia’s national hero. Five years after his death, New York Road Runners inaugurated an annual award in his honour – the Abebe Bikila Award, which is given to individuals for their contribution to long-distance running.

A stadium in Addis Ababa is named in his honor. The American Community School of Addis Ababa dedicated its gymnasium to Abebe Bikila in the late 1960s. In August 2005, with the assistance of A Glimmer of Hope Foundation and its supporters Isabel and Dave Welland, an Oromo school named Yaya Abebe Bikila Primary Village School was erected in Bikila's honor by the local Mendida community. The school sits a few hundred meters from the remains of the village of Jato.


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Abebe Bikila's Timeline

August 7, 1932