MOSCOW 2013 - 6, LOOKING BACK: MOSCOW AND THE 1980 OLYMPICS, 6. Yifter Finally Gets his Olympic Gold by James Dunaway

James Dunaway wrote his piece on the 1980 Olympics about the great Miruts Yifter. In my day, he was called, "Miruts the Shifter" due to his tremendous kicking ability. How would Miruts have battled runners today? Yifter was third in the 1972 10,000 meters, did not go to Montreal due to a boycott and in 1980, won the 10,000m and 5,000 m. 

This is one of my favorite columns......


MOSCOW 2013 - 6

 6. Yifter Finally Gets his Olympic Gold

Miruts Yifter first came into public notice in a USA-Pan Africa meet held in Durham, N.C. in July 1971, with near-90s temperature and very humid. Running in the 5,000 meters, the diminutive Yifter (5-4) and Steve Prefontaine had built a substantial lead over the field. Then suddenly, with less two laps to go, Yifter broke into a sprint and quickly pulled away from Pre with a 57.8 lap, "finishing" with his hands held high in what he thought was victory, but was actually 400 meters short. Prefontaine jogged the final lap in 70 seconds and won easily.
Turned out that the 24-year-old Yifter, in his first international competition, spoke and read only Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia; he could not understand the Arabic numerals used by most of the world (including American lap counters),
Next day, Yifter wanted to run the 10,000, and was allowed to do so - with plenty  of "laps to go" shouting from Amharic volunteers to help him. Yifter ran with Frank Shorter, America's best distance runner, for 24 laps and then outkicked Shorter to win.
At Munich in 1972, Yifter finished a close third in the 10,000 behind Lasse Viren's world record 27:38.35, but had language trouble getting into the stadium for the 5,000 final and missed the race. Strike one!
In 1976, Ethiopia was one of the many African nations which boycotted the Montreal games, and of course Yifter missed out again. Strike two!
 But there was not to be a  "Strike three!"  Moscow made it all up to Yifter, now a 33-year-old veteran. In one of the most exciting races I've even seen - with perhaps 30 lead changes, and a bunch of madly howling Ethiopians sitting a few meters behind me - Yifter zapped away from a great 10,000 field over the final two laps and won by 10 meters, relegating 1976 distance double winner Lasse Viren to fifth place. Four days later in the 5,000 final, Yifter used his formidable kick again (54.9, 27.2) to hold off Suleiman Nyambui and finish what he had started nine years ago in Durham.

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