Three Ethiopians among BBC’s Top 10 African Olympic champions

by Selam

Abebe Bikila was the first black African to win Olympic gold – at Rome’s 1960 Olympics – and the man who inspired countless Ethiopians to pursue running as a career. Bikila famously ran the marathon barefoot as he was not comfortable in the running shoes that were offered to him, yet he broke the Olympic record comfortably. He won again in 1964 in Tokyo, and died in 1973 at the age of 41. Ethiopia’s Derartu Tulu became the first black African woman to win Olympic gold – in the 10000 metres in Barcelona 1992. She was happy to stay on the shoulder of South African Elana Meyer until the final lap, when she sprinted clear. Events after the race were also memorable, as Derartu invited Meyer to join her on her lap of honour — a deeply meaningful gesture as South Africa had just been readmitted to the Olympics after the end of apartheid. Ethiopian legend Haile Gebrselassie went to the Sydney Olympics as the defending champion in the 10000 metres but had to run the race of his life to prevail in a titanic battle with Kenya’s Paul Tergat. The two were long-time rivals who had competed against each other in Atlanta in 1996 (pictured above), but Gebrselassie was used to having the upper hand in their clashes. Gebrselassie’s thrilling win in Sydney remains one of the finest moments in Olympic history.

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