One of the most famed long-distance runners in history is currently in hospital in Canada.
Ethiopian Miruts Yifter, a two-time Olympic champion, has been staying at Bridgepoint Health in Toronto for “months,” according to Ethiosports. The 72-year-old was mistakenly reported dead by Ethiopian state media last month. He spoke to journalists after there was an “outpouring of grief” and confirmed that he is recovering from a collapsed lung. His condition is bad enough that he is unable to travel back to Ethiopia. He immigrated to Ottawa in 2002, according to the report.
“The athletics icon has been hospitalized for months suffering from a collapsed lung which is made more complicated due to his advanced age,” the report reads. “It appears that the nursing staff at the hospital didn’t realize they had an internationally renowned sportsman at their venue.”
Hundreds of Ethiopians from the local community have visited Yifter in hospital and he receives calls from a variety of high-profiled names including past runners on a daily basis. The Ambassador of Ethiopia to Canada recently visited Yifter at Bridgepoint and tweeted out the below photo, with Yifter sporting the iconic green Ethiopian track jacket.
— Ethiopian Diplomacy (@mfaethiopia) December 13, 2016
Ethiosports writes that an “Israel-based Ethiopian diaspora entertainment and gossip news site” falsely reported that Yifter had passed away at the beginning of November. The Ethiopian Broadcast Corporation (EBC) covered the news on Nov. 9 but later retracted the statement of Yifter’s death and issued an apology.
Yifter is arguably best known as “Yifter the Shifter,” referring to how he used to be able to switch gears at the end of a race and sprint away from his competition. His “shifting” helped him win two Olympic titles at the 1980 Games in Moscow in the 5,000m and 10,000m. Yifter won bronze in the 10,000m eight years earlier in Munich.
Men’s 5,000m final at the 1980 Olympics
Following the 1972 Games, Yifter was imprisoned for treason because the government accused him of purposely skipping the 5,000m final at the Olympics. He claims that there was confusion among the team’s coaches and that they failed to inform Yifter to head to the start line while in the athlete zone.
He trained during his three months in prison in hopes of racing again, which came to fruition as he ran in the 1973 All Africa Games. Yifter would have to wait until 1980 to claim his goal of winning an Olympic title as Ethiopia boycotted the 1976 Olympics.
Bridgepoint Health is a complex care and rehabilitation hospital in the Toronto neighbourhood of Riverdale, located next to the Don River.