Born in Adigrat, in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia, Miruts Yifter spent early parts of his youth working in different factories and as a carriage driver. His talent as a long-distance runner was noticed when he joined the Ethiopian Air Force. Miruts Yifter was called to the Ethiopian national team for the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, but he made his Olympic debut four years later in Munich Olympics where he won a bronze medal in 10,000 metres. However, he arrived too late for the 5000 metres final. In the 1973 All-Africa Games he won one gold medal (10,000 m) and one silver (5000 m). At the 1st African Championships in 1979 he won two gold medals (5000 and 10,000 metres). Miruts Yifter was unable to participate in the 1976 Summer Olympics because his nation boycotted the event. Four years later in Moscow, Yifter made up for his disappointments. In the final of the 10,000 m he sprinted into the lead 300 m from the finish and won by ten metres. Five days later, in the 5000 m final, Yifter was boxed in during the last lap. But with 300 m to go, his Ethiopian teammate, Mohamed Kedir, stepped aside and Yifter again sprinted to victory. Due to his abrupt change in speed when executing his kick to the finish, Yifter acquired the nickname “Yifter the Shifter.” At Coamo, Puerto Rico on 6 February 1977, Yifter ran a World Best for the half-marathon of 1:02:57.
At the Moscow Olympics, part of the mystery surrounding Yifter was the question of his age, which was reported to be between 33 and 42. Yifter 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.” The most common versions of his date of birth are 1 January 1938 or 15 May 1944 (see IAAF Profile). Miruts Yifter continued to compete into the early 1980s, running on Ethiopia’s gold medal winning team at the 1982 and 1983 IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Miruts Yifter died at age of 72 on 22 December 2016 in Toronto, Ontario where he had lived since 2000. According to family members, he had been suffering from respiratory problems.
- May, 15, 1944
- Adigrat, Ethiopia
- December, 22, 2016
- Toronto, Ontario
- Trinity Cathedral
- Addis Ababa Chartered City, Ethiopia