Miruts Yifter: Tribute to a Legend

Miruts Yisfter’s death inside a Canadian hospital became public last Friday. There were rumours of his passing in social media even before that. But his passing was confirmed at last by his doctor. Friends and family members are waiting for the arrival of his body, at Bole International Airport today. A legend has departed and he shall be missed.

Sport authorities in Addis Ababa have released information of the arrival of the athlete Western broadcasters nicknamed “Yifter the Shifter,” and have invited masses of people to pay their respect to him and offer him the respect he deserves as a public hero.

He was cagey about telling his age, to either journalists or fans, despite their curiosity. In fact, he was often quoted as expressing his unwillingness to divulge his cracking jokes. Despite many guesses, his date of birth will remain a mystery.

His prominence was not just noted at the 1980 Olympics games in Moscow but everywhere he went and competed. His hay days begun in earnest in the 1970’s. What makes this legend unique was perhaps the fact that he was a true champion, winning recognition and seeing the flag of his country go on up.

His prominence was not just noted at the 1980 Olympics games in Moscow but everywhere he went and competed.

At one stage he was blamed by the old Dergue regime for being late at a competition and not delivering a Gold medal to Ethiopia. While he was blamed, his coaches had forced his late entry in the game and ultimate lose by not transporting him on time. He was kept behind bars at the barracks of the Debre Zeit Air Force, but he kept running, practicing and perfecting his sport.

He was not distracted by what was unjustly done to him. He never lost hope and let his craft speak for itself. Amidst wild guesses, it transpired in due time, that he was born in 1935 and lived until his last moment in Toronto, Canada, his adopted country.

The glory of his victories has to be seen, in the light of what was achieved. In as much as he inspired many athletes to follow suit, he was inspired by the great Abebe Bekila, the double Olympian, at both the Rome Olympics and the Tokyo Olympic. In turn, he inspired the next generation of runners, along with Dr. Wolde Meskel Kostre, the father of Ethiopian athletics, and coached Negussie Roba, to international success.

His influence was not only restricted within Ethiopia’s borders. It extended to Kenya and Eritrea as well. Haile Gebreselassie who had been inspired by him, has continued his legacy.

Names like Fatuma Roba, Derartu Tulu, Gete Wami,  Messeret Defar, Birhane Adere, Tirunesh Dibaba, Genzebe Dibaba, Wokinesh Kidane and others had become household names and see him an inspiration figure.

The impact of these athletes have gone beyond boundaries. They compete in international competitions, helping promote the Ethiopian signature athletic excellence to the mainstream. They have the common spirits of sportsmanship as valued citizens of the sports world. I wish them the best of luck as they continue the Ethiopian legacy championed by Miruts Yifter. At the time of his death, I am thinking of his family and the people of Ethiopia, who are, I am sure, affected by his death.

Those of us, who have lived long enough, remember the scene on the TV screen, whenever we saw Miruts do what he did best. I remember the diminutive athlete with his balding head showing his victory signature smile, whenever they placed a medal around his neck.

He was indeed a legend and he shall be missed.

By girma Feyissa

Published on Jan 03,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 870]



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