Will Jones’s Olympic Moment
What was your Olympic moment? I don’t mean the day you went for the gold, although you may have had one of those, but the day you watched an Olympic event, either in person or on TV, and it changed your life?
Mine happened as a pre-teen watching the Rome Olympics on TV in 1960. Imperial Bodyguard Abebe Bikila, a last minute addition to the Ethiopian Olympic team, won the marathon in record time…in his bare feet. It was the first Olympic Gold Medal ever won by a Sub-Saharan athlete. I watched the race on my parents’ newly purchased Zenith color console.
The 1960 marathon started and ended at the Arch of Constantine, next to the Colosseum. In a spectacular and mesmerizing display of romance and artistry, the last few miles of the race were run in the dark with only occasional spotlights to illuminate the course. Bikila, tall and graceful in red shorts and green singlet, the Ethiopian colors, out sprinted his lone challenger to the finish line and through the Arch, the lights of the Colosseum behind him. Bikila became my hero and I vowed to someday run a marathon and win a medal of my own.
Bikila won the marathon again at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. In 1969 he was paralyzed in an accident while driving the Volkswagen Bug given to him by Haile Selassie for his Olympic conquests. The accident occurred when he swerved to avoid student protesters on the streets of Addis Ababa. He died of complications in 1973. He was only 41.
On December 18, 1983, I ran my first marathon, finishing in three hours and twenty-six minutes. I dedicated my training and race to my pregnant wife, my soon-to-be-born son, and my inspiration, the great Olympian, Abebe Bikila. A few months later I was fortunate to be in the Los Angeles Colosseum when Joan Benoit won the first women’s Olympic Marathon. The temperature was in the 90’s but I remember getting the chills as she entered the stadium and circled the track to the finish line, tens of thousands of fans on their feet cheering as she passed.
What was your Olympic moment? BOBB and I would love to know.
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