The Olympic Games

The Olympic Games

The Olympic Games

Published : 10/24/2017 17:52:22
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Over half a century after withdrawing from hosting the third Olympic Games, Rome finally held them in 1960. The beauty of its scenery, the climate, the functionality of its infrastructures (12 permanent sites, 5 temporary, and a village of about 1500 apartments) and the quality of the competitions means it is remembered as one of the most successful editions. Among the changes was the massive participation of post-colonial African nations and the complete television coverage of the event, with over 100 hours of programming overall.

As in Melbourne, the Soviet Union came top of the medal winners with 43 golds and 103 medals in total - over 30 more than the United States. Third in the medals table was host nation Italy, with 13 golds, 10 silvers and 13 bronzes. The Azzurri won cycling, and the boxing with Nino Benvenuti (gold in the welterweight) surpassing even budding legend Cassius Clay. But the most striking impression from the Azzurri contingent was made by Livio Berruti in the 200m, becoming the first European in history to beat the Americans at that distance – a feat that has been repeated only by Borzov, Mennea and Kenteris.

However, the true icon of the Roman Olympics was an athlete who arrived as a complete stranger: Abebe Bikila.

He was born on the 7th August, 1932 in Jato, Ethiopia; the same day in which the Olympic marathon was being run in Los Angeles. The son of a shepherd, he was a police officer by profession, as well as personal bodyguard to the Emperor Haile Selassie; a job which he decided to take in Addis Abeba in order to earn some more money and support his family.

And on the 10th September, 1960 Abebe found himself part of the Olympic team, replacing Ethiopian Wami Biratu who had been injured in a football match prior to departure. The shoes he was provided by the sponsor weren’t comfortable, so two hours before the race he decided to run barefoot.

He had started athletics racing only four years earlier, coached by Swede Onni Niskanen. Wearing a green jersey with the number 11, he immediately found himself racing a ghost: Abebe had wanted to keep an eye on athlete with number 26, the Moroccan Rhadi Ben Abdesselam, who instead started with number 185. Bikila stayed with the leading group and not finding his rival thought he must be further ahead. But in the end the Ethiopian would be the winner. After the race, when asked the reason for his decision to run barefoot, he simply declared: "I wanted the world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism."

Bikila's victory became a symbol not only of the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, but also of the entire anti-colonial movement.

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