Miruts Yifter ‘the shifter’ dies, Ethiopian running legend, honoured at Toronto funeral

A Toronto Ethiopian Orthodox Church was packed for the funeral of running legend Miruts Yifter. (Michelle Cheung/CBC)


Miruts Yifter, an Ethiopian running legend dubbed “Yifter the Shifter” for his ability to power away from rivals, was laid to rest at a packed funeral in Toronto on Tuesday.

Yifter, a distance runner who won two gold medals in the 5,000- and 10,000-metre events at the 1980 Moscow Olympics and won bronze medals earlier at the 1972 Munich Games, died at 72 after battling respiratory problems.

“He’s a national icon,” said Yonas Tadssa, a friend of Yifter’s who also hails from Ethiopia.

Miruts Yifter, Ethiopia (2 Gold, 1 Bronze) A former Ethiopian athlete Miruts Yifter is the winner of two gold medals at the 1980 Summer Olympics. At the 1973 All-Africa Games, in the 10,000m and 5000m event, he won 1 gold and 1 silver respectively. Yifter won 2 gold medals (5000 and 10,000 metres) at the 1st African Championships in 1979.

“He’s our hero.”

  • Running legend dies at 72


Miruts Yifter captured Olympic gold at the Moscow Games and inspired generations of Ethiopian runners. (Tony Duffy/Allsport/File)

His victories put Ethiopia on the map in terms of running, and he’s still regarded as one of the country’s greatest athletes. Haile Gebrselassie — who still holds one of the world’s fastest marathon times — recently said he owes his entire career to Yifter,

Winner of Moscow Olympics distance double passes away Read more at http://www.athleticsweekly.com/featured/miruts-yifter-the-shifter-dies-54795#JexI2BvZJuhrv3gE.99

Yet during his career, Yifter was criticized by Ethiopia’s former military regime for not winning gold medals at the Munich Games, and he was briefly jailed upon his return home. Tadssa said Yifter, who left Ethopia for Canada in 2000, wouldn’t have been able to live comfortably in his home country, something he said was a shame.

Instead, the great runner came to Toronto — a city that knows far more about hockey and baseball players than distance runners.

Tadssa said Yifter was never one to brag about his success. “He was just a simple, low-key person.”

When his running days were done, Yifter changed his focus to coaching soccer. Several of his former players attended his funeral.

Yifter’s body will be returned to Ethiopia this week.

Miruts Yifter, double Olympic champion in Moscow Nationality Ethiopian Role Olympic athlete Career end 1983 Name Miruts Yifter Career start 1968 Miruts Yifter i581photobucketcomalbumsss258ronquetinMiruts Born May 15, 1944 (age 71) (1944-05-15) Adigrat, Ethiopia Event(s) 5000 metres, 10,000 metres Personal best(s) 5000 metres: 13:13.82 10,000 metres: 27:40.96 Olympic medals Athletics at the 1980 Summer Olympics – Men’s 10,000 metres Nominations Milliyet Sports Award for World Athlete of the Year Similar People Lasse Viren, Mohamed Kedir, Kaarlo Maaninka, Emiel Puttemans, Suleiman Nyambui

His family members, who told The Associated Press that he was never treated with the dignity he deserved in Ethiopia, called on all Ethiopians to give him a heroic welcome when his body arrives in Addis Ababa.


  1. The attached photo of Miruts reaching out to a white hand gives the wrong impression. Please publish the whole picture.

  2. In the time our country is divided among ethnic lines, Major Yifter died as an Ethiopian legend and being Ethiopian. In a recent interview he was asked about his marriage. His response was “she is from my country, what I mean is she is Ethiopian”. What a legend to still stick to a healthy notion of oneness. Being Ethiopian. We love you and will miss you. RIP.


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