Miruts Yifter, Ethiopian running legend, honoured at Toronto funeral

Olympic champion’s body will be sent back to Ethiopia this week

By John Rieti, CBC News

A Toronto Ethiopian Orthodox Church was packed for the funeral of running legend Miruts Yifter.

Miruts Yifter, an Ethiopian running legend dubbed “Yifter the Shifter” for his ability to power away from rivals, was laid to rest at a packed funeral in Toronto on Tuesday.

Yifter, a sprinter who won two gold medals at the 1980 Moscow Olympics and won bronze medals earlier at the 1972 Munich Games, died at age 72 after battling respiratory problems.

His victories put Ethiopia on the map in terms of running, those who attended his funeral said, and he’s still regarded as one of the country’s greatest athletes.

Yet during his career, Yifter was criticised by Ethiopia’s former military regime for not winning gold medals at the Munich Games and he was briefly jailed upon his return home.


Miruts Yifter captured Olympic gold at the Moscow Games and inspired generations of Ethiopian runners. (Tony Duffy/Allsport/File)

Yifter left Ethiopia for Canada in 2000.

In Toronto, when his running days were over, he worked as a soccer coach. Several of his former players attended his funeral.

Yifter’s body will be returned to Ethiopia this week.

His family members, who told The Associated Press that he was never treated with the dignity he deserved in Ethiopia, called on all Ethiopians to give him a heroic welcome when his body arrives in Addis Ababa.

With files from The Associated Press and Michelle Cheung

Filed in: Current Affairs / News