Tag Archives: Abebe Bikala

Did Abebe Bikala run a marathon without running shoes?

The marathon is a challenging distance to run; it is 26.2 miles of hard running. It can be hard on the body, particularly the feet which is why all marathon runners pay such a lot of consideration to what exactly is on their feet. Marathoners invest considerable time getting the best running shoes and a lot of money is associated with running shoes. Back at the 1960 Rome Olympics, the Ethiopian, Abebe Bikala turned up for the marathon and there were no running shoes remaining in the teams supplies that would fit him, so he ran the marathon without shoes and went on to win the gold medal. This is commonly hailed as a remarkable achievement. In recent years there's been a community of athletes who are implying the running footwear is not all they're believed to be and are advocating that running should be carried out barefoot, just like nature intended. After all, we were not born with footwear and historical humans simply had to run large distances barefoot to live as animals had to be hunted on foot over great distances. Athletic shoes are really only a quite recent creation.

Runners who advocate the barefoot approach to running love to point out the achievements of Abebe Bikala as even more validation that we have no need for running shoes. There are obviously many other arguments both for and against barefoot running, with little or no scientific data underpinning it. Whilst Abebe Bikala obtaining the gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics barefoot undoubtedly suggest that it can be done, what those who like to tout his successes as evidence often omit that he subsequently went on to get the gold medal and also set a world record in the marathon at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games. Abebe Bikala managed to set the world record on this occasion wearing running shoes; in other words he could actually run faster when he was using running shoes. We may well have evolved to run without running shoes, but we also evolved in an surroundings prior to concrete and hard surfaces emerged. While the achievements of Bikala were extraordinary, making use of him as proof that it is better doesn't stack up to analysis.