Did Abebe Bikala run a marathon without running shoes?
The marathon is usually a hard event; it is 42 kms of hard running. It is hard on the body, especially the feet and that's why all marathon runners pay so much attention to what exactly is on their feet. They invest a lot of time finding the best footwear and lots of money is involved in running shoes. Back at the 1960 Rome Olympics, the Ethiopian, Abebe Bikala showed up for the marathon where there were no shoes left in the teams gear that would fit him, so he ran the marathon without footwear and won the gold medal. This is often widely praised as a exceptional achievement. In recent years there has been a group of athletes who are recommending the running shoes are not all they are believed to be and are promoting that running should be done barefoot, much like nature made us for. After all, we were not created with footwear and historical humans simply had to run great distances without running shoes to stay alive as animals needed to be hunted on foot over long distances. Running footwear are actually only a relatively recent invention.
Runners who suggest the barefoot way of running love to point out the achievements of Abebe Bikala as additional justification that we do not require running shoes. There are certainly a number of other arguments both for and against barefoot running, with little or no scientific data supporting it. While Abebe Bikala getting the gold medal at the Rome Olympics without running shoes certainly suggest that it can be done, what those who like to promote his triumphs as proof often leave out that he later went on to get the gold medal and break the world record in the marathon at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games. Abebe Bikala was able to set the world record this time wearing running shoes; to put it differently he could actually run faster when he was wearing running shoes. We may well have evolved to run without shoes, but we also evolved in an environment before concrete and hard surfaces came along. While the successes of Abebe were extraordinary, using him as proof that it is better doesn't stack up to scrutiny.