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Haggai Erlich

Ethiopian athlete, was born on 7 August 1932 in Jato, a village located some eighty miles from Addis Ababa, outside the town of Mendida in Shewa Province. His father died before he was born, and young Abebe was adopted by Bikila Demisse, a shepherd. Having completed his studies at age twelve at the local traditional school, he followed in his adopted father’s footsteps. At the age of twenty, he decided to venture out of peasantry and made his way on foot to the capital, to join the Imperial Bodyguard. In 1954 he married Yewibdar Welde-Giyorgis, with whom he fathered four children. He distinguished himself as a talented player of gena, a traditional Ethiopian hockey game, but remained an anonymous soldier until the age of twenty-four. At that time, while guarding the departure of the Ethiopian delegation to the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne he decided to begin competing ...

Article

Robert Fay

Abebe Bikila was born in Mout, Ethiopia. Before competing as a runner he was a member of the imperial bodyguard of Haile Selassie I, the Ethiopian emperor. The marathon at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Italy was only Bikila’s third race at this distance, but he set a new world best time of 2 hours 15 minutes 16.2 seconds. The designation world best is used instead of record because marathon courses differ greatly and comparison of finish times is difficult. Bikila also attracted attention by running barefoot.

At the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, Bikila, no longer competing barefoot, became the first runner to win the Olympic marathon twice. He finished with a new world best time of 2 hours 12 minutes 11.2 seconds. His previous mark had been broken several times between the Olympic games. Bikila competed in the marathon at the 1968 Olympic Games in ...

Article

Born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, Zola Budd was seventeen years of age in 1984 when she set an unofficial world record for the 5000-meter race with a time of 15 minutes, 1.83 seconds. At that time South Africa was barred from international sport because of its policy of Apartheid, so Budd adopted British citizenship in order to qualify for the 1984 Olympic Games. This move caused a good deal of controversy because it allowed a white South African athlete to defy the ban and appear in international competitions. At the 1984 Games Budd gained international attention when in the last lap of the 3000 meter race American runner Mary Decker Slaney the world record holder in the 3000 meter and the favorite to win tripped on Budd s foot and fell Both Budd and Decker Slaney finished out of the medals Budd initially received much of the ...

Article

Martha Saavedra

Ethiopian long-distance runner, and the first sub-Saharan African woman to win an Olympic gold medal, was born on 21 March 1972 in Bekoji 80 miles 130 kilometers south of Addis Ababa Ethiopia Like many in their community her father Tulu and her mother Derartu Kenene were farmers who raised cows sheep and horses Despite a population of only 30 thousand Bekoji in the Arsi zone in the central Ethiopia highlands at an altitude of 9 800 feet 3 000 meters is also the birthplace of many successful distance runners from Ethiopia These include Kenenisa Bekele and Derartu s younger cousin Tirunesh Dibaba 2008 Olympic 5 000 10 000 meter and multiple World Cross Country women s champion Like the majority of the country s elite runners as well as athletes in other sports in Ethiopia Derartu is from the Oromo ethnic group A study of Ethiopian national senior and ...

Article

Azeddine Chergui

Moroccan track and field athlete, was born in Berkane, Morocco, on 14 September 1974. In a land where soccer is the national sport, El Guerrouj first tried his athletic skills as a goalkeeper but, because of his mother’s objection to the dirty laundry he brought home from practice, he abandoned soccer for the next best thing, track and field athletics. He was only ten when, like millions of his countrymen, he watched Said Aouita and Nawal Almoutawakil win the first gold medals in Morocco’s history at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Motivated by the achievements of these two national icons, he took up cross-country running to become the greatest middle-distance runner of all time and “King of the Mile.” In 1991 he left school and turned professional by joining the National Athletics Institute in the capital city of Rabat At the age of eighteen he attained his ...

Article

Adam R. Hornbuckle

track and field athlete, Olympic champion, coach, politician, sports administrator, was born on 15 April 1962, in Casablanca, Morocco. Her parents were employees of the Moroccan Bank of Foreign Trade. As a youngster El Moutawakel showed promise as a track and field athlete. Her father, Mohamed El Moutawakel, encouraged her to pursue her athletic interests while at the same time respecting and adhering to the values of traditional Moroccan society. From 1977 to 1981 she won scholastic and national titles in the 100, 200, and 400 meters.

El Moutawakel debuted internationally in 1981, representing Africa at the World Cup in Rome, Italy. She finished eighth in the 100 meters. The next year El Moutawakel finished second in the 100 meters and won the 100-meter high hurdles and 400-meter intermediate hurdles at the African Championships in Cairo, Egypt. In 1983 she won the ...

Article

Tracey M. Ober

Born in Casa Verde, a suburb of São Paulo, Adhemar Ferreira da Silva came from a humble background, the only child of a railroad worker and a cook. A friend introduced him to the world of sports when he was almost nineteen years old and by the following year he already held the Brazilian and South American record in the triple jump. At twenty-one, he competed in his first Olympic Games, finishing eighth place in London in 1948. He matched the world record—then 16 meters—in 1950 and set a new record of 16.01m in 1951. A year later at the Helsinki Games, Ferreira da Silva broke his own world record twice on the same day, jumping 16.12m and 16.22m, and winning the gold medal. Ferreira da Silva set a new world record of 16.56m in 1955 and earned a second gold medal at the Melbourne Games in 1956 ...

Article

Kate Tuttle

Frankie Fredericks was a talented athlete as a youth, but he never expected to be in the Olympic Games. Until 1990 his country, Namibia, was a colony of South Africa, which had been banned from Olympic competition because of its policy of Apartheid. Yet Fredericks, who has become one of the world’s premiere sprinters, has brought four Olympic medals home to Namibia.

An only child, Fredericks was raised by his mother in Katutura township, just outside the Namibian capital, Windhoek His mother worked several jobs to send Fredericks to private schools where he excelled in both soccer and academics In high school he started running track specializing in sprinting He won both the 100 and 200 meter races in the South African school championships his senior year After graduating Fredericks passed up several college scholarship offers to accept a management training position with the Rossing Uranium ...

Article

Kate Tuttle

Haile Gebrselassie was born in Arssi, Ethiopia. As a child, he ran barefoot to and from school each day—a round trip of 25 km (15 mi). This was good training for his future career as one of the world’s best runners. Like his brother before him, Gebrselassie began running competitively as a teenager. In 1992 he won both the 5000-m and 10,000-m races at the World Junior Championships. The next year, competing against adults for the first time, he won the 10,000-m and finished second in the 5000-m in the World Championships. In 1996 Gebrselassie not only won the 5000-m event in the World Indoor Championships, he also set an indoor world record, the first Ethiopian to do so. He followed that feat by winning a gold medal in the 10,000-m at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, setting a new Olympic record.

Treated to a victory parade ...

Article

Haggai Erlich

Ethiopian long-distance track and road runner, was born on 18 April 1973 in Arsi Province in southern Ethiopia to a family of ten children. His village of Asella had no electricity and no running water. At the age of five, he began studying in a school some six miles (ten kilometers) from his home, a distance he ran twice a day. His later distinctive, majestically straight running posture, with his left arm somewhat passive and slightly bent, was shaped by years of running while holding his schoolbooks. His father, he testified, was a natural athlete; and the altitude of Arsi Province, some 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) above sea level, proved an ideal breeding ground for great runners, like Kenenisa Bekele, who would in time break many of Gebrselassie’s records, and Tirunesh Dibaba, women’s world and Olympic champion.

Gebrselassie began competing on the national level at the age of fifteen He ...

Article

As a boy growing up in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, Alberto Juantorena excelled in Basketball. After he was sent 800 kilometers (500 miles) from his hometown to attend Havana's Higher School of Athletic Improvement, a track coach noticed Juantorena running laps with the basketball team and told the athlete that his future lay in track. Juantorena soon found that no one could keep up with him in the 400-meter race.

Juantorena met Irria Cardova, a gymnast, at the school and later the couple married. Like many of Cuba's top athletes, Juantorena enrolled in the University of Havana's Institute for Physical Culture and kept his student status throughout most of his international career. Although Juantorena had focused his training on the 400-meter dash, only a few months before the 1976 Olympics in Montréal Canada he was told he would represent his country in the 800 meter race ...

Article

John Bale

Kenyan athlete, world record holder, and Olympic champion, was born Hezekia Kipchoge Keino on 17 January 1940 in Kipsano, Kenya, in the Nandi district of the southern part of Rift Valley province. His mother died when he was four. His father worked on a tea plantation and was a good runner, winning prizes in plantation- sponsored races. As a youngster in the 1950s, young Keino was inspired by Nyandika Maiyoro, the first Kenyan athlete to run against world-class athletes when he competed in the British championship in London and the Commonwealth Games in Vancouver in 1954 Maiyoro exploded the prevailing view that black athletes could not perform well in long distance running and became Keino s role model Initially Keino was self trained but he later became a member of the police force which offered him time to train and compete As he improved he was trained and advised ...

Article

Martha Saavedra

Ethiopian distance runner, was born on 13 June 1982 in the town of Bekoji, in Arsi Zone, Oromi Region of Ethiopia. He was the second son of Bekele Bayicha, a successful farmer and Kuli Megerssa, Bayicha’s third wife. His father, who was fifty-six at his son’s birth, chose the name “Kenenisa” which in the Oromo language means “you brought me delight.” He has two sisters and three brothers, one of whom, Tariku (b. 28 February 1987), is also a distance runner.

He preferred football when younger but was inspired by local runners Haile Gebrselassie Derartu Tulu and Fatuma Roba to take up athletics Gebrselassie eventually became his mentor Like many other runners from his hometown he was first coached by Sentayehu Eshetu at Bekoji Elementary School His father however was not pleased preferring his son to concentrate on his education With early victories and evidence of his religious commitment his ...

Article

Martha Saavedra

Mozambican athlete and philanthropist, was born on 27 October 1972 in Maputo, Mozambique. One of the most accomplished athletes ever, Mutola maintained a dominating presence for two decades in her event, the 800-meter foot race, a race of speed and endurance. Her achievements include Mozambique’s first Olympic gold medal, three world championships, and seven world indoor championships. Number seventeen on the all-time list for the 800—only seven women have run faster—it was her consistency in winning that cemented her reputation. Fittingly, she went undefeated in 2003 in six track meets to become the first athlete to win the $1 million International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) Golden League Jackpot. She retired in 2008 after competing in her sixth Olympics and one final Golden League meet in Zurich. Like many other elite athletes, she has used her fame and earnings for social projects, particularly through her foundation in Mozambique.

Had professional ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

track and field athlete and American football player, was born 16 August 1961 in Enugu, Nigeria, the fifth of seven children of his mother, Cecilia, and his father, Benedict Ike, who served in the military. Cecilia died of a stroke two years before her son Christian moved to the United States. His family belonged to the Igbo ethnic community, and four of his uncles fought in the failed Biafran secession from 1967 to 1970. Okoye recalled trying to hide himself in his grandfather's basement. By the time he left secondary school in 1979 Okoye s potent combination of size strength and speed made him stand out in several sports He played table tennis soccer discus handball volleyball and ran hurdles State track coach Patrick Anukwa noticed Okoye and pushed him to train harder and to increase his strength One of his fellow sprinters Innocent Egbunike received a ...

Article

Record-breaking runner Ana Fidelia Quirot won worldwide admiration when, after suffering severe burns to more than a third of her body, made a comeback and won a silver medal at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

Quirot was born in Santiago de Cuba, in the eastern province of Oriente on the island of Cuba. At the age of thirteen she gained admittance to one of Cuba's prestigious state-run athletic training schools, where she was able to train as part of her educational curriculum. After completing her studies in the early 1980s, she dedicated much of her time to athletic training. Quirot found her niche in the 400- and 800-meter races. Just as she reached the peak years of her career, however, Cuba boycotted the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympic Games for political reasons. Quirot, who is strongly patriotic and considers Cuban president Fidel Castro one of her heroes ...

Article

Shane Graham

South African short story writer, novelist, literary critic, track-and-field athlete, and educator, was born 1 March 1931 in Cape Town to Nancy Ward Rive. His paternity is uncertain, as his father died soon after his birth and was seldom discussed in his home, though Rive speculated in his autobiography that his father may have been an African American. Rive was raised in the mixed-race inner-city area of Cape Town known as District Six, which his writing helped to transform into an emblem of apartheid oppression and dispossession. The district was condemned as a slum in 1966 and was declared “whites only” under the Group Areas Act; subsequently the entire neighborhood was razed and left undeveloped for decades. Rive said in a 1988 interview I always feel when I am here in District 6 that I am standing over a vast cemetery of people who have been moved away against ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

first black soccer professional and world-record sprinter, was born in the James Town district of Accra (in present-day Ghana) on 28 October 1865. His father, the Reverend Henry Wharton, was a Methodist missionary born in Grenada of Scottish and African ancestry. His mother, Annie Florence Grant, was the daughter of a Fante royal and a Scottish trader. Arthur’s uncle, Francis Chapman Grant, was a leading business and political leader, while a cousin, George “Paa” Grant, became a prominent business leader and helped found the United Gold Coast Convention, along with Kwame Nkrumah and Edward Akuffo-Addo. Despite his relatively privileged upbringing among the Gold Coast’s mixed-race elite, Wharton’s early life was not without tragedy. Five of his eight siblings died in childhood, and his father died in 1873 shortly before Arthur s eighth birthday That same year witnessed the onset of the third Anglo Asante war which caused widespread ...