An online photo essay by the British Broadcasting System highlights some of the little known African athletes who picked up gold medals decades ago. Abebe Bikila was the first black African to win Olympic gold in the 1960 games in Rome.
His example inspired countless Ethiopians to pursue running as a career. He famously ran the marathon barefoot yet he broke the Olympic record comfortably.
In 1968, Kipchoge “Kip” Keino won Kenya’s first gold medal for the 1500 meter run. Four years later in Munich he took gold in the 3000 meter steeplechase and silver in the 1500 meter race. Kenya has won 69 medals at the Games and is Africa’s most successful Olympic nation.
In the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984, Nawal El Moutawakel was the first African Muslim woman to win the gold. The Morocco-born Nawal paved the way for many other Muslim women.
Robert Wangila of Kenya won Africa’s first gold medal for boxing in Seoul, 1988. He was the only African to win the gold in a sport other than athletics.
Finally, Derartu Tulu was the first black African woman to win the top medal in Barcelona 1992 for the 10,000 meter race. She shared the victory lap with Elana Meyer of South Africa. The country had just been readmitted to the Games, ending its exclusion since 1960 over its apartheid system.
Since Tulu’s breakthrough in 1992, six of the 12 women’s Olympic medals at 10,000 meters have been won by Ethiopia. w/pix of A. Bikila