Pride of being Ethiopian
The barefoot runner: Abebe Bikila
7th of August 1932, an African child opened his eyes for the first time in Shewa in the poorest of villages of Ethiopia.
Growing up as an adolescent child looking deep into the darkness of the blackest skies, this kid contemplated over his place in this world. A staff in the grips of his hand, he would stand on the highest of dunes of the magnificent desert, pondering if he could ever outrun this vast expanse of nothingness.
Belonging to a poverty-stricken family, he was deprived of a basic formal education, adding to this, he was also robbed of his right to any homeschooling due to his illiterate parents. Soon he followed in the footsteps of his father and became a Shepard. Rearing and tending to the sheep became his life’s work. He would run barefooted with his staff guarding the flocks. Little did he know that being able to bear the scorching heat and the twigs under his bare feet would one day help him conquer the Olympic world.
In his teenage years, he used to play with his friends. Particularly Gena, a traditional long-distance hockey game played with goalposts that were sometimes kept kilometres apart. Learning from his prior experience of herding sheep, he was exceptionally good at Gena; running barefooted swinging his hockey stick as if it were his staff. He had an excellent hold over the hockey and the goalposts that were kept kilometres apart seemed only a meter away due to his remarkable control over his stamina.
His aspirations of getting out of his hometown pushed him to his limits. Working as a shepherd in the mornings and as a waiter in the evenings at a local tea shop, he managed to save enough money to travel to the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. He grew tired living in the same home around the same setting playing the same game. In hopes to find opportunities to make his life better for the lack of a better lifestyle, he soon set off for the capital. Upon reaching the city of Addis Ababa, this child was captivated by the huge structures and the beautiful monuments.
He had his eyes intensely fixated on the square that contained the Axum, which had been stolen from Ethiopia by the Italians following their invasion of the East African Nation in 1936. This boiled up a cauldron of assorted emotions inside of Abebe. It wasn’t only about winning the marathon anymore, Abebe was running to win his country back. A chance to humiliate the Italians in their own home. And he took it. Swallowing the harsh pill of the cobblestones and gravel under his bare feet, he made his way to catch up to his rival. Identifying the monument, he lengthened his stride and moved clear of Abdesselem. As dark clouds covered the sky and the sun vanished behind the horizon, Italian soldiers lit the remaining of the course with torches. These provided enough light for Abebe to see the finishing line into the distance.
Bikila breasted the finish line at the Arch of Constantine in a world and Olympic record of 2:15:16.2 – trimming 0.8 from Popov’s world record. His competitor, the courageous Abdesselem, finished some 25 seconds behind to bank a richly deserved silver with Magee taking bronze.
The crowd at the 1960’s Olympics witnessed something that had not ever been seen before. The unknown barefoot runner in Rome had made his country proud. Bikila felt overwhelmed from the joyous chants and the sponsors swarming him like ants willing to sign him. He had done something that hadn’t been done before. He had made history. He conquered the event in a way that can only assign Bikila’s name to it. Abebe Bikila went on to defending his title four years later at the Tokyo Olympics setting a new world record of 2:12:11.2. This all was nothing short of a miracle. Nothing that anyone in the future might be able to do.
‘I want the world to know that my country Ethiopia has always won with determinism and heroism’. Abebe did not just say it, instead, he proved it.