Bikila's golden moment for African athletics
|Abebe Bikila (left) during the opening stages of the|
marathon at the 1960 Rome Olympics
Not only did he run the whole 26 mile 385 yards (42.195km) barefoot, he also became the first athlete from sub-Saharan Africa to win an Olympic gold medal.
Bikila retained the marathon title at Tokyo in 1964. Subsequently, the middle and long-distance running events have become increasingly dominated by sub-Saharan runners, particularly Kenyans and Ethiopians.
The British runner Mo Farah - born in Somalia - continued that domination by winning both the 5,000m and 10,000m gold medals at consecutive summer Olympics in London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro this year.
In total, more than 40 gold medals at distances from 800m to the marathon have been won by sub-Saharan runners since Bikila's breakthrough.
Bikila competed in Rome only after a late call-up to the Ethiopia squad to fill a place vacated when a colleague became ill.
|Bikila on the podium with runner-up Rhadi Ben Abdesselam|
It was no real inconvenience in any event because he rarely trained in running shoes.
The starting point for the marathon was the foot of the wide staircase leading up to the Piazza del Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill and the finish line was at the Arch of Constantine, just outside the Colosseum.
Bikila came home first in a time of two hours 15 minutes 16.2 seconds, which at the time was an Olympic record. He crossed the line 25 seconds ahead of the Moroccan runner, Rhadi Ben Abdesselam, from whom he had sprinted away in the last 500m.
|The beautiful Piazza del Campidoglio on the|
Capitoline Hill in the centre of Rome
Later in 1960, Bikila was briefly detained following an attempted coup in Ethiopia but was soon able to resume his career. His winning time at Tokyo in 1964 was a world record 2 hours 12 minutes 11.2 seconds.
The Capitoline is one of the Seven Hills of Rome. It was the site of an ancient Roman citadel but few ruins exist. The area was redeveloped in the 16th century in line with an urban plan drawn up by the artist and architect Michelangelo Buonarotti as a central square - the Piazza del Campidoglio - surrounded by palaces.
|The parade of athletes at the opening ceremony|
of the 1960 Olympics at the Stadio Olimpico
Rome's Olympic Stadium - the Stadio Olimpico - was built between 1928 and 1938 as part of the Foro Mussolini (now Foro Italico), a sports complex Mussolini hoped would enable Rome to host the 1944 Olympics had they taken place. Originally named Stadio dei Cipressi and later Stadio dei Centemila, it was renamed when Rome won the bidding process for the 1960 Games, pipping the Swiss city of Lausanne. Rebuilt for the 1990 football World Cup, it is now home to the Roma and Lazio football clubs and has hosted four European Cup/Champions League finals.
(Photo of Piazza del Campidoglio by Prasenberg CC BY 2.0)
(Photo of Stadio Olimpico by Alex Dawson (Flickr) CC BY-SA 2.0)