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Abebe Bikila: Get to know the first African athlete to win gold in the Olympics

Shambel Abebe Bikila was an Ethiopian marathon runner who became the first black African to win gold in the Olympics at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.

It was also noted that the athlete scooped the medal while running barefooted.

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In 1964 during the Tokyo Olympics, he won his second gold medal becoming the first athlete to successfully defend an Olympic marathon title.

According to multiple sources, Bikila moved to Addis Ababa around 1952 and joined the 5th Infantry Regiment of the Ethiopian Imperial Guard, an elite infantry division that safeguarded the Emperor of Ethiopia.

After some time of intense discipline and steady growth, the runner rose to the rank of a captain.

He later joined athletics where he participated in sixteen marathons, emerging second on his first marathon in Addis Ababa, won twelve other races and finished fifth in the 1963 Boston Marathon.

In 1969, Bikila survived a road accident on but he never walked again, however, while receiving medical treatment in England, he competed in archery and table tennis at the 1970 Stoke Mandeville Games in London.

He later competed in both sports at a 1971 competition for the disabled in Norway and won its cross-country sleigh-riding event.

Unfortunately, the legendary athlete succumbed to cerebral hemorrhage in October, 1973 at age 41 four years after the road accident.

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

Abebe Bikila
While receiving medical treatment in England, Bikila competed in archery and table tennis Photo: Courtesy

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