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Barefoot Runner

Imprint: Serpent's Tail
Pages: 320
Subject: Non-Fiction

Barefoot Runner

The Life of Marathon Champion Abebe Bikila

Paul Rambali

9781846686535 (3 Jul 2008)

About the book

Abebe Bikila was the first black African to win an Olympic gold medal. He won the marathon running barefoot in Rome in 1960 and won again wearing shoes in Tokyo in 1964, becoming the first person to win the most grueling of all human contests twice.

Born into bitter poverty in rural Ethiopia in 1932, at sixteen Bikila joined the Imperial Guard of the Emperor Haile Selassie. It was there that he came to the notice of the Swedish athletics coach Onni Niskanen, whom Selassie had engaged to try and raise his country's profile through sport. Bikila became the focus of these ambitions - and an unwitting figurehead for black African nationalism.

Following the 1960 Olympics, Bikila's life took a dramatic turn when he was implicated in a failed coup against Selassie. Bikila was initially sentenced to death but was eventually pardoned following Niskanen's intervention. Despite an attack of appendicitis, Bikila recovered in time to win the Olympic marathon once again. Bikila died in 1973.

About the author

Paul Rambali is a writer and broadcaster and was a rock journalist for the NME during the punk era and editor of The Face from 1980-1987. The author of two books about France and works including It's All True - In the Cities and Jungles of Brazil, a personal odyssey exploring issues of development and culture in the Third World, he also ghost-wrote Phoolan Devi, the autobiography of India's Bandit Queen, which has been published in 26 countries.


Beautifully written, elegiac biography of the first black African to win an Olympic gold medal.

- Bookseller

Rambali brings the athletes, coaches, soldiers and their peculiar monarch beautifully to life in this strange, sad tale.

- Daily Telegraph

Poignant...about far more than Bikila's exploits on the track.

- Time Out

Delivers engrossing accounts of the Byzantine intrigues at Selassie's court...strong on documentary detail. It is impossible to remain unmoved by his accounts of the two great Olympic feats.

- Independent

An ambitious and evocative dramatisation... lyrical... makes you feel you are pounding the pavements alongside Bikila, hearing his breath in your ear

- Tim Lewis, Observer

Additional Information

Imprint: Serpent's Tail
Pages: 320
Subject: Non-Fiction