Abebe Bikila – double Olympic marathon gold medallist and almost Paralympian!

Much has been written about athletes with disabilities who have competed at the Paralympic Games and have then tried to qualify or have succeeded in qualifying for the Olympic Games e.g. Oscar Pistorious (RSA), Natalie du Toit (RSA) and Natalya Partyka (POL). However, virtually nothing has been written about individuals who have competed in the Olympic Games and then as a result of becoming disabled due to illness or injury have then attempted to compete at the Paralympic Games. Most people above a certain age with an interest in sport will know the name Abebe Bikila. He was an Ethiopian who won the Olympic marathon gold medal twice in Rome 1960 and Tokyo 1964. In Rome he actually won running the whole race barefoot. Going for a hat-trick of wins in Mexico City in 1968 Bikila had to withdraw from the race at around 17km due to injury. What many people may not know is that in late 1969 Abebe Bikila was involved in a car accident whilst driving near his home in Addis Ababa. As a result of his accident he was left a quadriplegic and was transferred to Stoke Mandeville hospital as part of his treatment and rehabilitation. Whilst there he did what most patients at Stoke Mandeville did – he participated in sport as part of the rehabilitation process. This led eventually to him competing in the 1971 Stoke Mandeville Games. In 1972 Bikila was actually entered in the archery St Nicholas round for tetraplegics at the Heidelberg Paralympic Games, having already been a guest of honour at the Munich Olympic Games for the men’s marathon race. However, for reason’s so far unexplained the whole Ethiopian team failed to arrive in Heidelberg for the Games. Sadly, Bikila died aged 41 on 25 October 1973 from a cerebral haemorrhage bought on by a complication related to the accident that made him a quadriplegic four years earlier and so never actually got to compete in a Paralympic Games.

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