It was the big shock of the 1960 Rome Olympics: an unknown, barefoot Ethiopian won the marathon in record time. He was 29-year-old Abebe Bikila, the first of the great East African long-distance runners (and the first African to win Olympic gold). This 2009 film (it wasn’t released in the UK at the time, but someone has clearly spotted its potential and given it a dust-off) mixes drama with electric archive footage of Bikila’s Olympic wins (he took his second gold at Tokyo in ’64).
But the dramatic scenes are a bit stiff. Co-director Rasselas Lakew stars as Bikila, whom we meet in 1969 on the way to see his family. But before he reaches home, the car crashes and Bikila is paralysed. The strength of character he shows is extraordinary, but the filmmakers are strangely incurious about Bikila’s inner life. Luckily there’s still that gripping archive footage, which gave me my first tingle of excitement about London 2012.