Double Olympic champion Miruts Yifter of Ethiopia has died at the age of 72, the International Association of Athletics Federations said on its website (www.iaaf.org) on Friday.
Yifter, who had been suffering from respiratory problems, died in Toronto where he had lived since 1998.
His 5,000 and 10,000 metres double at the 1980 Moscow Olympics inspired a generation of runners, most notably Haile Gebrselassie who turned Ethiopia into a distance-running powerhouse second only to Kenya.
“You inspired many people all over the world,” Kenyan-born former world cross country champion Lornah Kiplagat said on Twitter.
He earned his nickname of ‘Yifter the Shifter’ when he claimed 10,000 gold in Russia with an electrifying burst of speed over the final 300 metres.
Five days later he won the 5,000 in similar style, ghosting through on the inside with 250 metres left and sprinting clear after Mohammed Kadir stepped aside to create a passage for his countryman.
Eight years earlier Yifter took the 10,000 bronze medal at the Munich Olympics. He missed the 1976 Montreal Games due to an Ethiopian boycott.
The only Ethiopians to win Olympic gold before Yifter were marathon runners Abebe Bikila (1960 and 1964) and Mamo Wolde (1968).