Spotlight: Ethiopian Sports Journalist Fekrou Kidane Reflects on 60th Anniversary of Abebe Bikila’s Rome Victory

Abebe Bikila celebrating after his historic victory at the Summer Olympics in Rome on September 10th, 1960. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Tadias Magazine

By Tadias Staff

Updated: September 10th, 2020

Los Angeles (TADIAS) — This week marks the 60th anniversary of Abebe Bikila’s legendary victory at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome where the Ethiopian athletics icon became the first African Olympic gold medalist.

“The day was Saturday, September 10th, the eve of Enqutatash (Ethiopian New Year),” recalls veteran journalist Fekrou Kidane — the first Ethiopian sports reporter who started his career in 1957 and who now lives in Paris. “The Ethiopian marathon team included Abebe Bikila and Abebe Wakgira who finished seventh.”

Fekrou vividly remembers the sentiment from spectators and the international media who, as far as they were concerned, had perceived the African athletes as an afterthought. “Nobody noticed their presence until about 20 kilometers into the competition when Abebe Bikila and the Moroccan long-distance runner Rhadi Ben Abdesselam, who finished second, emerged as frontrunners.”

“To make things even more interesting Abebe was running barefoot, further astounding the audience,” Fekrou shares in a recent letter he wrote to Tadias, reflecting on the 60th anniversary of Abebe Bikila’s Rome victory.

“When the runners reached Piazza di Porta Capena and Abebe noticed the Axum Obelisk, that was looted from Ethiopia by Mussolini’s troops less than two decades earlier during world War II, something hit him and he just bolted leaving everyone behind.” The rest is history.

According to the World Athletics Federation Abebe’s milestone victory “remains, arguably, one of the most significant landmark moments in [sports]. When Abebe Bikila – running barefoot – became the first black African to win an Olympic marathon gold medal on the streets of Rome it was without doubt one of the most iconic moments of the 1960 Games.”


Ethiopian journalist Fekrou Kidane, who is affectionately known as Gashe Fekrou, is pictured at his home in Paris, France. He was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Ethiopian Sports Journalists Association (ESJA) in 2018. (Photo by Arefe via AIPS media)

As Fekrou recalls, the following day was Enqutatash and Abebe’s historic victory gave Ethiopia a double celebration — a new year and a hero’s welcome home that culminated with a parade and the Order of the Star of Ethiopia awarded to Abebe by Emperor Haile Selassie among other gifts.

Abebe Bikila passed away on October 25th, 1973 at the young age of 41 following deteriorating health from a car accident a few years prior, but his place in history as the first African Olympian gold medalist continues to inspire generations of runners from his native country and beyond.

Watch: Abebe Bikila’s victory at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome on September 10th, 1960 (IOC)

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