Mamo Wolde was born in Ada’a to an Oromo family. In 1951, he moved to Addis Ababa. At his first Olympic appearance in 1956, Wolde competed in the 800 m, 1,500 m and the 4×400 relay. He didn’t compete in the 1960 Summer Olympics, when Abebe Bikila became the first Ethiopian to win a gold medal. Wolde claimed his absence was due to the government’s desire to send him on a peacekeeping mission to the Congo during the Congo Crisis. According to him, in the government’s ensuing conflict with the Ethiopian Olympic Committee, who wanted him to compete, he didn’t get sent to either event. However, athlete Said Moussa Osman, who represented Ethiopia in the 800 m at the 1960 Olympics, stated that Wolde lost at the trials and didn’t make it on the team. Beginning in the 1960s, Wolde’s focus changed from middle distance races to long distances. He placed fourth in the 10,000 m at the 1964 Summer Olympics, which was won by Billy Mills of the United States in one of the biggest upsets in the history of Olympic competition. On April 21, 1965, as part of the opening ceremonies for the second season of the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair, Abebe and Mamo Wolde participated in an exclusive ceremonial half marathon. They ran from the Arsenal in Central Park at 64th Street & Fifth Avenue in Manhattan to the Singer Bowl at the fair. They carried with them a parchment scroll with greetings from Haile Selassie.
In 1968 Summer Olympics, Mamo Wolde became the second Ethiopian to win gold in the marathon. Earlier in the same Olympics, Wolde had already won the silver medal in the 10,000 m. In 1972, Wolde won a third Olympic medal at the age of 40, winning bronze in the marathon. He blamed his third place showing on ill-fitting shoes forced on him by Ethiopian officials. Nonetheless, he became only the second person in Olympic history (Bikila was the first) to medal in successive Olympic marathons. Both medalists ahead of him in 1972, Frank Shorter and Karel Lismont would repeat the feat in 1976 behind Waldemar Cierpinski who would do it in 1980. Erick Wainaina was the most recent and only other to do it in 2000. Wolde also won the marathon race of 1973 All-Africa Games. Wolde died of liver cancer at age 69 a few months after his release. He had been married twice and had three children; a son with his first wife, Samuel, and two children, Addis Alem and Tabor, with his second wife. Mamo Wolde is interred in Saint Joseph’s Church Cemetery in Addis Ababa.
- June, 12, 1932
- Ada'a, Ethiopia
- May, 26, 2002
- Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Cause of Death
- liver cancer
- Saint Joseph's Church Cemetery
- Addis Ababa Chartered City, Ethiopia