Do you recognize this athlete? Probably not, but in the 1960s he was one of the most famous runners in the world. His name is Abebe Bikila. Mr. Bikila, who is from Ethiopia, is the only man to win two Olympic gold medals for the marathon. His first Olympic victory was in Rome in 1960 where he captured the hearts and imaginations of people around the world by winning the 26 mile race running barefoot up and down the hills of Rome. Four years later he repeated his gold medal performance by winning the marathon in the Tokyo Olympics.
Abebe Bikila’s marathon victory in Rome was the beginning of a spectacular trend in African athletics. In the past two decades African male runners have dominated the middle (800 and 1,500 meters), and long (5,000 meters, 10,000 meters, 3,000 meters steeplechase, and the marathon) distance events at both the annual World Championships (of Athletics) was well as at the Olympics. Runners from Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Morocco have been particularly successful in the distance races. Indeed, marathoners from Africa in recent years have dominated the Boston and New York Marathons – the two premiere marathons races in the U.S.
Africa has also produced some great sprinters. In the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, Frank Fredericks from Namibia won the gold medals for both the 100 and 200 meter races. Nigeria sprinters have medaled in the 4 by 100 relay race in each of the past three Olympics.