Home > running, VFF > Abebe Bikila – Barefooter wins 1960 marathon

Abebe Bikila – Barefooter wins 1960 marathon

Abebe Bikila represented Ethiopia sans shoes in the 1960 Rome Olympics and became the first black African to win gold. Truly inspirational. He ran barefoot because he was unable to find a comfortable pair of running shoes and he had been regularly training barefoot. There are some other videos here and here — the latter had close-up slow-motion of Abebe running, but it appears to have been pulled from YouTube :(.

According to the Wikipedia article he made the decision to go barefoot just a few hours before the race and had trained for the race barefoot. Ultimately he did it because, in his words, he “wanted the world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism.”

VFF Bikila running shoe model

In 2010, fifty years after Abebe’s historic win, Vibram released its Bikila model of VFFs, helping to bring Abebe-style running to the masses. Click on image for a good review of the Bikilas.

Do you think we’ll ever see another barefoot Olympic marathoner? Perhaps a VFF-er?

Categories: running, VFF Tags: , , ,
  1. elizabethhoward1
    May 5, 2011 at 9:25 am

    I think we will! It is becoming very popular and there are so many different types of foot coverings, like the one you have shown. I think it is very interesting. I am sure our ancient ancestors used to run on their bare feet all the time. Maybe we are just wimps these days.

  2. May 12, 2011 at 12:44 am

    The Runner’s World article “Should You Be Running Barefoot” (Aug 2004) has a quote from John Kelley, the leading American finisher in the 1960 race with Bikila:

    “On the ancient Appian Way, we had to run on huge, rounded cobblestones that were completely unyielding,” Kelley says. “They had no ‘give’ at all. I remember that I was afraid of slamming down too hard on them, and I still can’t imagine how Bikila did it.”


  3. August 13, 2011 at 12:34 am

    I have new respect for Bikila’s feat/feet. This week I did some barefoot speed work on a nice, soft, rubberized track. I only did two miles, the first one easy with some accelerations thrown in, including 1x400m fast, and the second mile fast w/out any breaks (ran it in 6:29 – my barefoot PR now). By the end of the second mile, my soles were blazing hot & tingly and I had to stop — feet couldn’t take any more running even with shoes.

    I thought my feet could take it given the barefoot and minimalist shoe running I’ve been doing: running in minimalist shoes for most of my runs over the past 1.5 yrs plus a several-mile barefoot run a couple times/month for the past 3 mos, However, my barefoot runs have typically been at an easy-to-moderate pace. All the easy running in the world won’t prepare you to tolerate the stresses of faster paced running. To adapt to that, you’ve gotta practice running fast.

    The surface I ran on was ultra-cushy compared to the streets of Rome where Abebe ran in 1960, yet I had trouble doing 2 fast miles compared to Abebe’s 26 — and he was running much faster than I: he finished the marathon in 2:15 which is about a 5:09/mile pace. It’s hard to believe that the human foot can be so durable, but Bikila proved it.

    So how did my dogs do after that experience? Well, I doused them with water there at the track and kept them on ice for most of the rest of the day (they melted a 16oz. frozen water bottle without ever feeling cold). I developed a blister on the strike zone on the sole of each foot, just below the little toe, which made walking painful the next day. I continued icing and by 48hrs walking was fine; by 72 hrs I could run again.

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