There is no doubt that Abebe Bikila is a legend. He was a late selection for the Ethiopian team for the marathon at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Because of his late inclusion the teams sponsor, Adidas did not have shoes in his size, so he decided to run barefoot. On September 10, 1960 he got the gold medal. It was no fluke as he then went on to win the 1964 Olympic marathon in Tokyo. He ran faster in this one wearing running shoes.
My interest in him is two-fold: Firstly, he really is a legend and his running achievements are legendary.
Secondly, it has been interesting to follow the use of that legendary status by the barefoot running community during the fad on barefoot running. He was held up as a hero of that community for his barefoot achievements. He was used to promote the benefits of barefoot running. That is fine and he is anecdotal evidence that a marathon can be run barefoot. What you never see mentioned in that barefoot community that he subsequently ran faster to win the Tokyo marathon wearing running shoes. I did point that out on a number of occasions and all I got in response was hate mail. What does that tell you?