Frankel, Davey & Lakew, Rasselas — He Twice Ran and Won Olympic Marathons Barefoot

Posted on May 12th, 2011 in Film,Race,World Culture,World History by LeGov

It is said that in the early part of World War II, it took 500,000 Italian soldiers to occupy Ethiopia, and one Ethiopian soldier to conquer Rome.  19 years later, this one Ethiopian soldier, Abebe Bikila competed barefoot in the 1960 Olympiad marathon foot race in Rome, Italy, leaving all other runners in the dust.  Winning the 42 kms, 195 meter race, Abebe Bikila became the first African to win an Olympic Gold Medal.

Abebe Bikila, a shepherd from the plains of Abyssinia in rural Ethiopia, who had never been away from his family, stunned the world with his extraordinary victory.  He became the hero of Rome Olympiad and for years to come a national hero in Ethiopia.  Four years later he won the Marathon at the Tokyo Olympiad becoming the first person to win two Olympic Marathon Gold Medals.

Beyond igniting East Africa’s dominance in long distance running, Abebe Bikila became a quiet champion of hope for a continent that was in the midst of its struggle for self-determination.  During his career Bikila won 12 of the 15 marathons he entered. Abebe Bikila died of a brain hemorrhage on October 23rd, 1972, two and a half years after his final race and victory in Norway.  He was 41 years old.

In this edition of Radio Curious we visit by phone with the Davey Frankel, from his home in Berlin, Germany and Rasselas Lakew, from his home in New York City.  They are the writers, directors and producers of the movie “The Athlete,” the story of Abebe Bikila.  Rasselas Lakew portrays Abebe Bikila in the lead role of “The Athlete,” and was born and grew up in Addis Abbaba, Ethiopia.  “The Athlete” which will be shown at the Mendocino Film Festival on Friday evening June 3, tells the powerful and tragic story Abebe Bikila, a quiet man, who in many ways meets the Homer’s description in the Odyssey: “… the distant Ethiopians, the father outposts of mankind, half of whom live where the sun goes down and half where the rises.”

This interview with Davey Frankel and Rasselas Lakew, which was recorded on May 9, 2011, began when I asked them explain what prompted them to write and produce “The Athlete.”

The movie that Davey Frankel recommends is “My Life Without Me,” directed by Isabel Coixet.   The movie that Rasselas La Lakew recommends is “Living Russian, Man With A Movie Camera,” directed by Dziga Vertov.

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