He won two Olympic marathons, and yet Abebe Bikila was a doubtful starter for both of them. In 1960 he was a late addition to the Ethiopian Olympic team as he came in to replace Wami Biratu, who had broken his ankle in a soccer match. By the time Bikila went to pick out some shoes from Olympic sponsor Adidas, he couldn’t find any that fitted properly so he ran the marathon barefoot instead.
Four years later he contracted acute appendicitis just 40 days prior to the Olympics and was hospitalized. Although he travelled to Tokyo he was not expected to compete. He did, and duly defended his title. Sadly he was paralysed in a car accident five years later and suffered a broken neck and spinal cord injury. He died of a brain haemorrhage in 1973, aged 41.