Bikila Award was created in honour of one of the greatest long-distance runners - Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia. He continues to inspire so many athletes around the world. Rightly so, many people believe that Abebe is the main influential athlete for the long distance running dynasty in Ethiopia.
In 1960, just 20 years later after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia that ended with Italy’s defeat, Abebe Bikila went to Rome to participate in the Olympic Marathon Race and won the Gold Medal by breaking a new record. Before this historic victory, Abebe was unknown in Ethiopia let alone in the rest of the world. Neither did Ethiopia win anything in the previous Olympic Games.
To mark this historic event in 1960 and Abebe’s repeated Olympic Gold Medal victory in Tokyo in 1964, there are numerous anecdotal commentary and information that need to be cherished.
Here below are some for posterity.
The pair of running shoes provided to Abebe Bikila during the Rome Olympic was not the right size. It was too tight and unfortunately, he couldn't get a replacement on-time. He had no choice but to run with it for seventeen kilometers but couldn't continue anymore in that condition. Abebe decided to throw away the unfitting shoes and continued running on barefoot and finished the race by winning the Gold Medal breaking a new record.
His determination to win against all odds made him famous instantly. As one Italian newspaper wrote, "Italy sent an army to conquer Ethiopia, but Ethiopia sent one Imperial bodyguard to conquer Rome." It was very emotional at the time for those who witnessed this dramatic event unfold before their eyes.
Bob Richards described it like this "I was working for CBS then, I was wondering how in the world you can run Marathon barefoot, on Cobblestone barefoot? Here is all the splendor of Rome, here is the bath of Caracalla, the Apian Way; here is the Arc of Constantine. So dramatic because the Italian army taken the symbol of Ethiopia, it was there in the light you could see it... I started crying, to me it is one of the most dramatic moment I have ever seen in the Olympics."
John Kelly who finished third in Rome Olympic describes the condition like this. "I had run over the last 15 km in shoes, it wasn't easy - there were cobblestones, some of them quite big, I couldn't believe to take that shock for 15 kilometers running barefooted. I wonder what goes in his (Abebe’s) mind, and right away we all knew history was made that day."
Four years later, in Tokyo Olympic Abebe ran in an extremely hot and humid condition. Several athletes collapsed during this marathon. An ambulance siren was not uncommon. Abebe Bikila showed a great determination under this extreme weather condition and finished the race with a new Olympic record. He didn't show fatigue, in fact he did his routine exercise just after he won the race.
Basil Heatley of Great Britain who finished second was unaware that Abebe Bikila finished ahead of him. He said "I didn't see Bikila at all, in those days there was no tape. I entered the stadium knowing T-Suburaya at the front that was the job to attend to, I got the advantage as I was coming from behind, I was able to take him by surprise. Bikila, quite honestly that day he had a class of his own in those conditions. He won the "A" race and I won the "B" race."
His last Olympic Marathon was in 1968, Mexico City. He was running with his fellow countryman Mamo Wolde. Unfortunately, Abebe wasn't feeling well and had to pull out from the race. Before he goes out from the race he told to Mamo, "I'm not feeling well and I'm going to pull out, make history for your country” and left. Mamo carried the torch and finished the race by winning Gold in the Marathon race and Silver Medal in 10,000 meters race.
Ever since the exemplary determination and success of Abebe, numerous Ethiopian long distance runners (Marathon, 10,000m, 5000m and etc.) both, men and women emerged most winning Gold Medals in the Olympics as well as in various international races. Since Abebe’s historic Marathon race victories in Rome and Tokyo Ethiopia has won 45 Olympic medals, 27 Gold, 7 Silver and 17 Bronze in long distance running.
Thanks to his inspiring legacy, Ethiopian runners are now known and expected to win in both Olympic and international long distance running competitions. Needless to say, the economic and social lives of these successful athletes that followed the footsteps of Abebe have dramatically changed beyond anybody’s imagination.
However, paradoxically and unfortunately, the Ethiopian hero, Abebe Bikila, who put his country, Ethiopia, on the map and opened the floodgate of success, fame, and glory for countless athletes seems largely forgotten by his country and fellow Ethiopians. That his legacy has now faded into current Ethiopian history is not an exaggeration. In fact, he can be regarded as one of the “unsung heroes” of history as there are no significant memorials monuments, stadiums, schools, hospitals, roads built in Ethiopia bearing his name.
The legacy of this remarkable person, no doubt, is an inspiration to all of us particularly to the younger Ethiopian generation and thus need to be cherished and revitalized. With this realization in mind and in order to honour Abebe Bikila, Bikila Award was founded in July 2013 as a not-for-profit organization in Ontario, Canada. Bikila Award is created to foster academic, professional and business excellence, promote volunteerism within persons of Ethiopian origin residing in Canada and to recognize exemplary Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia primarily through award and recognition. Members of the young generation are particularly encouraged to emulate Abebe’s indomitable spirit and various distinguished award winners as they pursue their individual dreams and exceed expectations. Academic excellence awards for those pursuing post-secondary education are available every year to deserving participants.
The founders of Bikila Award believe the importance of encouraging young people to emulate Abebe’s indomitable character as they follow their individual dreams and expectations.
Thank you for your continued support.
The Board of Directors
The mission of Bikila Award is to foster academic, professional and business excellence and promote volunteerism among persons of Ethiopian origin, primarily through award and recognition. Bikila Award is created mainly to empower young people reach their highest potential and to celebrate their achievements.