Fate & The Marathon: Recalling the lives of two running greats, Buddy Edelen and Abebe Bikila

"Elite Runners" Running Times, December 9, 2013
by Roger Robinson


When Bikila discovered running, his mother did her best to distract him from such a waste of time. Edelen's stepmother encouraged him to try sport when she learned the teenager was being jeered at as "Butterball Bud." Edelen found that he "could jog forever," doubled the training his coach prescribed, and became an undefeated high school miler. Bikila's mother even arranged a marriage in March 1960 to divert him, but by then he had Niskanen as a mentor and kept running. In July 1960, when Edelen had his heart-breaking Olympic 10,000m trials failure, Bikila won Ethiopia's Olympic selection marathon, at altitude, in 2:21:23 (or 2:23:00, according to some sources). Wilt urged Edelen to break the American mold and keep running after college. He left for Finland. Niskanen advised Bikila he could deliver Ethiopia its first Olympic medal. They left for Rome.

Edelen loved the English running scene. It was a heady mix of competitiveness and friendship, intense individualism, plus profound loyalty to club teams. As part of this mix, I shared Edelen's love, and look back on those years as a life of total commitment, in Edelen's case of considerable hardship, since he lived alone in spartan accommodation on a limited income. We trained and raced in all weather (often at night after work) for absolutely no monetary reward, in an era when hot showers were rare and road running shoes not yet invented.

Years later, at the Tulsa Run in 1992, we laughed over shared memories, like the day at the South of England cross country championship when Edelen's contact lens popped out as he sprinted to the line in second place. Half of the best runners in England had just spent 40 minutes beating each other to exhaustion in the race, but we then spent a hilarous 15 minutes crawling about together in the grass to find Buddy's little lens.

Read Full Article

Tags: 1960 Olympic Marathon, 1964 Olympic Marathon, Adebe Bikila, Buddy Edelen, Rome, Tokyo

sitemap xml