by Dan Empfield, 10.15.01

I subscribe to what you might call the Associated Press of the running world. It's called Race Results Weekly and is published out of New York by David Monti. Every now and then something catches my eye, such as the story I'll reprint below, with Monti's permission.

The story is about Mamo Wolde, or at least the very end of Wolde's life, as well as the continuation of the life of his widow, and those who knew Wolde when he was competing. I was a high school sophomore runner when Wolde won his second Olympic marathon medal, and I remember that there was some question as to Wolde's age. He might've been in his late 30s, and was even more likely in his 40s. He was a mystery.

I don't know why this story touched me more than others. Perhaps it's because of the memories I had of watching the '72 Olympics, and the latter-day thoughtfulness of his one-time competitors. Here's from David Monti:

"Mamo Wolde did not die in prison, but he lost his life there. The two-time Olympic medalist in the marathon died earlier this year from liver cancer after being imprisoned in 1992 for allegedly shooting a teenager during political turmoil in 1978.

"'I couldn't find any witnesses to testify for me,' Wolde said in an interview published in Running Times magazine earlier this year. 'They had all passed away by the time my case was brought to court.'

"Wolde had won the Olympic Marathon gold medal in Mexico City in 1968—plus a silver in the 10,000m—and returned to win bronze at Munich in 1972. In Munich he finished behind American gold medalist Frank Shorter and Belgian silver medalist Karel Lismont. Both Shorter and Lismont would go on to medal again in the Olympic Marathon in Montreal four years later.

"While all of these men can never compete in the same race again, the 30th edition of the Honolulu Marathon this Sunday will offer the next best thing. Honolulu Marathon Association President Jon Cross will be bringing Wolde's wife, Aberash, to his race this Sunday along with Shorter, Lismont and Kenny Moore, who was fourth at Munich.

"'I am a dentist and one of my patients is Kenny Moore,' said Cross. 'He told me a few years ago that he was going down to Ethiopia to try to help Mamo Wolde get out of prison. At the time I told him if he was successful, I would invite Mamo to come as a guest.'

"It first seemed that Wolde himself would be able to make it.

"'Kenny and I were planning to bring Mamo and his wife Aberash to the race and had invited him by telephone ten days before he passed away,' recounted Cross. 'He accepted our offer, knowing he was dying.'

"Wolde had apparently received many invitations while in prison, including one to participate in the Olympic torch relay for the 1996 Games in Atlanta. But fully realizing his own mortality, Wolde made a plan to extend himself through his wife.

"'Apparently, one of the biggest honors an Ethiopian man can bestow on his wife is to show her the world,' said Cross. 'So while in jail he made a pact with Aberash that he would only accept invitations that included her if he was ever released. I did not know this when I invited her and it turned to be an emotional moment for them as it represented a completion of their pact.'

Aberash will be accompanied by 1996 Olympic Marathon gold medalist, Fatuma Roba. Shorter and Moore will be running the race in Wolde's honor while Lismont will attend as a guest.

"'We will have the top four from the Munich Olympic marathon reunited, at least in spirit,' added Cross."