Abebe Bikila and Onni Niskanen

From Tim Judhas book Bikila Ethiopia´s Barefoot Olympian: “Bikila was hit with appendicitis on 16th September wich was 15 days before the team was due to set off for Tokyo and 40 days before the marathon itself. Bikila began to feel stabbing pains in his stomach while training in Debre Zeit. He was immediately rushed to Addis Ababa´s Haile Selassie Hospital.

There a German doctor, who was noted for treating the Ethiopian athlets for free, confirmed that he was suffering from an appendicitis. In consultation with Yidnekatchew and Niskanen, a midnight decision was taken that Bikila had to be operated on immediately.”

Onni Niskanen: ” Abebe Bikila was positive and the smile and hearty handshake he gave me just after the operation meant I could return to coaching the others in Debre Zeit with a calm heart.
I knew he would be at the marathon start if no post-operative complications arose. Everything went well, and after a few days when I went to see him, he was up and walking around the hospital which he left after a week…There was no question of him training before leaving for Japan. Only walks and careful gymnastics. After arriving in Tokyo we had three weeks until the marathon.”


In Tokyo 1964 Abebe Bikila won his second gold with a new world best time of 2 hours 12 minutes 11.2 seconds. He was the first person ever to win two marathon gold medals. He had made Olympic history – again.

Tokyo 1964

26. Abebe Bikila, Mamo Wolde and Onni Niskanen pose for the camera. Tokyo 1964. (Niskanen's own photo album)with_umbrella_tokyo
Wami Birato, Abebe Bikila, Onni Niskanen

From Tim Judahs book Bikila Ethiopia´s Barefoot Olympian: “Bikila´s return to Addis Ababa was no less triumphant than the one that had taken place four years before. Tens of thousands turned out to cheer him on his victorious ride into the city. He waved with both hands, shook hands with many in the crowd and received innumerable bouquets of flowers. This time a lorry had been adepted so that the garlanded Bikila emerged from out of a large, painted globe, a map of Africa to the fore. The front of the lorry was painted with two flaming Olympic torches and the center was the coat of arms of the Imperial Bodyguard.

As in 1960, he was driven straight to the royal palace. Here Haile Selassie pinned on him the Order of Menelik II. He promoted him to lieutenant, awarded him his own private Volkswagen and house and said that the success he had scored had been due to the “help of the Almighty.” He also praised Mamo Wolde.

Following the ceremony, there was a reception given by the chief of the Imperial Bodyguard. The newspapers talked of the relief felt all over the contry that Bikila had won the second time around and the Ethiopian Herald opined that: “There are hundreds of Abebes in Ethiopia whose potential abilities either remain undiscovered or overlooked.” .”