Mamo Wolde died recently at age 71. At 36, He won the 1968 Olympic marathon and the 10,000-meter silver medal in Mexico City. He spend the last part of his life in prison. He was buried with a guard of honor of some of the greatest distance runners who ever lived.
In 1960, his Ethiopian countryman, Abebe Bikila won the Olympic marathon in Rome. In 1963, Bikila and his countryman, Mamo Wolde came to run in the Boston Marathon. At the eighteenth mile, the two of them were ahead of the third place runner by more than 10 minutes and were ahead of the world record for the marathon by more than five minutes. Then both of them hit the wall and Abebe Bikila, arguably the greatest marathon runner of all time, started to walk and finished in thirteenth place, while Mamo Wolde walked in even farther back.
Wolde will be remembered for his athletics exploits over a career which began in Melbourne in 1956 and spanned five Olympics. He was always second to Bikila who won the Olympic marathon by huge margins at both the 1960 marathon in Rome and the 1964 marathon in Italy. Bikila was favored to win the 1968 marathon at Mexico city, but broke a bone in his leg training just before the Olympics. One day before the marathon race, the team trainer Negussie Roba told Wolde that Abebe Bikila might not be able to finish the race, and that he was the nation’s only hope. The next day, 72 athletes from 44 countries started the race. Bikila led from the start with Mamo Wolde slightly behind him, but Bikila started to falter at the 15-Kilometer mark and dropped out of the race. Bikila yelled, “Mamo, make the ultimate sacrifice.” Wolde passed Bikila for the first time ever and won the Olympic marathon. He should have been a national hero for life, but in 1993, he and thousands of others were put in jail by the coalition government that got into power after a 17 year struggle following the overthrow of Haile Selassie. Wolde was arrested and spent six years in jail on unspecified charges and was released only this past January. He died penniless with a wife and three young children.