Bikila was born August 7, 1932 in the village of Jato, Ethiopia. At the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, Bikila won the marathon in world record time, becoming the first Black African to win an Olympic Gold Medal.
At the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, he again won the marathon in world record time, becoming the first athlete in history to win the Olympic marathon twice. In 1969, Bikila was involved in a car accident which left him a paraplegic.
After his death, Emperor Haile Selassie I proclaimed a national day of mourning. A stadium in Addis, Ababa is named in his honor.