Miruts Yifter, one of the greatest long distance runners of all time, has died at the age of 72 in Toronto, Canada on Thursday, December 22, 2016.
The Ethiopian was a double gold medallist at the Moscow Olympics in 1980, winning both the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters in the Russian capital. Often referred to as “Yifter the Shifter”, he died from respiratory problems in Toronto.
He first came to international prominence at the Munich Olympics of 1972 when he won bronze medal in the 10,000 meters race.
Miruts would have been one of the favorites for gold four years later – in both 5,000 and 10,000 – had his country not been one of 29 nations to boycott the Montreal Games in protest at the IOC's refusal to ban New Zealand.
Many countries, mainly African countries, were unhappy that New Zealand's All Blacks rugby team had toured apartheid South Africa in 1976.
Despite this setback, Miruts continued to be a dominant force in athletics, enjoying victories over both his main distances at the World Cup meetings of 1977 and 1979.
He inspired a generation of African runners, including the great Haile Gebreselassie, who admitted: "Miruts has been everything to me and my athletics career.
"When I started running, I just wanted to be like him. He is the reason for who I'm now and for what I have achieved.
"For me, he is the best athlete Ethiopia ever had, after the great Abebe Bikila."
Miruts is a double Olympic gold medalist, an Ethiopian national icon and one of the finest athletes to grace the running track. The effects of having suffered a collapsed lung, compounded by his old age led to his death.
Miruts had been hospitalized for nearly a year, but was recently said to have been making progress in his recovery effort. But after having fought admirably, exhibiting the same resistance and endurance that made him a household name in international sports back in the seventies and eighties, Miruts has succumbed to illness.
His numerous accolades, unforgivable punishing running style and longevity, his ability to maintain world class fitness for so long has earned him recognition as one of the greatest athletes to have graced the Olympic track venue.
In Ethiopia, he was idolized, a hero of the people. His heroics inspired a generation of runners to follow in his footsteps. He contributed the lion’s share to establishing the Ethiopian long distance running dynasty that has made athletes from the country among the most feared competitors in the world. The likes of Haile and Derartu Tulu have previously named Miruts Yifter as their inspiration and guiding light.
At Coamo Puerto Rico on February 6, 1977, Miruts ran a World Best for the half-marathon of 1:02:57.
At the Moscow Olympics, part of the mystery surrounding Miruts was the question of his age, which was reported to be between 33 and 42. Miruts refused to give a definitive answer, telling reporters:
"Men may steal my chickens; men may steal my sheep. But no man can steal my age."
Due to his abrupt change in speed when executing his kick to the finish, Miruts acquired the nickname “Yifter the Shifter.”
In more recent years he had been a team coach at major events but moved to Canada, where he spent his last days.
Miruts is survived by his wife and seven children.