Ethiopian running legend Miruts Yifter dies at 72, says family

He is the reason … for what I achieved,’ says double Olympic 10,000m champ Gebreselassie

Miruts Yifter, an Ethiopian running legend who won two gold medals at the 1980 Moscow Olympics at age 40 and won bronze medals earlier at the 1972 Munich Games, has died at age 72, according to his family. (Tony Duffy/Allsport/File)

Miruts Yifter, an Ethiopian running legend who inspired world-class athletes like Haile Gebreselassie, has died in Canada at age 72, his family and Ethiopian Athletics Federation officials told the Associated Press on Friday.

The athlete known widely by the nickname “Miruts the Shifter” won two gold medals at the 1980 Moscow Olympics at age 40 and won bronze medals earlier at the 1972 Munich Games.

“Miruts has been everything to me and my athletics career,” said Haile Gebreselassie, the double Olympic 10,000-meter champion, who struggled with his tears while talking to the AP by phone. “When I started running, I just wanted to be like him. He is the reason for who I’m now and for what I have achieved.”

Miruts’ son, Biniam Miruts, said his father had been suffering from respiratory problems.

Miruts Yifter was the subject of much criticism during Ethiopia’s former military regime, especially for not winning gold medals at the Munich Games, and he was thrown into jail upon his return home. He was soon released but left Ethiopia in 2000 for Canada.

Family members said he was never accorded the dignity and privileges he deserved in Ethiopia, and they called on all Ethiopians to give him a heroic welcome when his body arrives for burial in Addis Ababa next week.

Miruts has seven children, most of whom live outside Ethiopia.

Haile recalled listening to the radio as a little boy during Mirut’s victory in Moscow.

“I used to doubt that he was a human being after all for achieving what he achieved back then,” he said Friday. “For me, he is the best-ever athlete Ethiopia ever had after the great Abebe Bikila.”

1 COMMENT

  1. Some perspective here. Miruts is certainly a great runner. Let us not forget Ethiopian runners of the past hardly received the plaudits they deserved. Nothing exceptional in the case of Miruts. Miruts’s failure to go in the proper gate at Munich could be simply explained as his [and other Ethiopian athletes] unfamiliarity with the instructional language and with modern venues; remember this is in the 1970s and 1980s. Guess who his coaches would blame for such failure. Along with Miruts should be the forgotten bunch starting with Belayneh Denasmo who could have easily eclipsed Mirtus.

    Haile GS’s tribute in NYT today sounded superficial. Haile said, “For me, he is the best-ever athlete Ethiopia ever had after the great Abebe Bikila.” Really? Think again Haile. Take off your false humility and exploitative veneer. Does Mamo Wolde register? Mamo was jailed by the present government on charges that he had participated in the 1970s Red Terror and later released though Mamo continued to declare his innocence. In the end, no one can take from Miruts his achievements and the pride he gave us all. May he rest in peace. My sympathies to the family.

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