Running a marathon is one of the ultimate tests of human endurance. Running one barefoot would probably be doubly difficult. Yet that’s exactly what Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila did in the 1960 Rome Olympics, outlasting all his shoe-clad competitors to win the gold medal in the marathon and becoming the first sub-Saharan African Olympic gold medalist.
Bikila brushed the taunts and condescending remarks he heard before and during the race to cross the finish line first. He was supposedly forced to run barefoot because he was a last-minute substitute for the original Ethiopian marathon bet, who injured himself right before the Olympics and had to withdraw. Bikila was given the original runner’s shoes, which didn’t comfortably, and with no time to look for a new pair, he decided to run the race barefoot, finishing with a then-record time of 2:15:16.2. Four years later, Bikila, now wearing running shoes, repeated as marathon champion despite undergoing an appendectomy a month earlier, thus becoming the first athlete to win the race twice.
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