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BTT logoThis week’s Booking Through Thursday is about Olympic reading.

You may have noticed–the Winter Olympics are going on. Is that affecting your reading time? Have you read any Olympics-themed books? What do you think about the Olympics in general? Here’s your chance to discuss!

The Winter Olympics do not interest me AT ALL. I’m actually waiting for them to end so that my usual (radio) programs will be back on. Alas, there’s not much to gain since I do not spend much time in front of the telly at ‘normal’ times, so I do not read more these days either.

BUT. The question triggered me to write about a recent Olympic movie I saw this month on the International Film Festival Rotterdam: Atletu. It’s a biopic (directed by Davey Frankel and – leading actor – Rasselas Lakew) of the first African to receive Olympic gold, the Ethiopian Abebe Bikila, who won the 1960 summer marathon in Rome. It was a great boost of confidence for the people of Ethiopia and the African continent. The amazing thing was that he ran the 42+ kilometers on bare feet! Not because he wasn’t used to shoes (that’s a typical western thought ;) but because the pair sponsor Adidas provided didn’t really fit. So he preferred to discard them.

Abebe Bikila barefoot running Olympic marathon in Rome, 1960

Abebe won again in the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, even though he had had an operation for acute appendicitis just a few weeks before. Not only did he establish a new world record, he was also the fist athlete to win the Olympic marathon twice!
A car accident prevented him from winning a third time… But even as a paraplegic he continued to have an interesting sports life.

The life of Abebe Bikila is quite remarkable, so I wonder why there hasn’t been made a film about him before. And what a pity that Atletu isn’t as good a movie as it could be. I found it a bit boring at times: too much recounting of facts, too many flashbacks for my taste. His accident was tragic of course, although from the movie I got the idea he wouldn’t have wanted you to pity him — and that at the same time that he was quite bitter about it. That clashes with one of his famous quotes:

Men of success meet with tragedy. It was the will of God that I won the Olympics, and it was the will of God that I met with my accident. I accepted those victories as I accept this tragedy. I have to accept both circumstances as facts of life and live happily.

Scene from the film Atletu (Ethiopia, 2009)

Of course it is always fascinating to see documentary footage in a feature film. But there’s the risk of competing with the newly shot material. A nice touch was to have the adult Abebe travel to the place of his youth, so that we got to see the beautiful landscapes of the area where he had trained to become a long distance runner (great shots). And yes, Rasselas Lakew played Bikila very well. Really, this could have been an amazing film. Unfortunately it just doesn’t have ‘it‘. Still, it was one of the favourites of the festival audience. So never mind me ;)

A fun fact for film buffs: the well-received movie Marathon Man honours Abebe Bikila with a scene in which Thomas ‘Babe’ Levy (Dustin Hoffman) escapes his torturers, barefoot outrunning a car.

Ha. I couldn’t seem to get myself to write a post about our visit to the IFFR. Now (at least) I’m down 1 of 5 movie ‘reviews’! I plan to finish the rest before my ‘Day at the Oscars’ on March 6th… It might not be a marathon, but it certainly seems an endurance race to me!


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