Biography Of Billy Mills

Biography of Billy Mills who won the 10,000 meter race at the 1964 Oylmpic games in Tokyo, Japan. He earned a gold medal in what has been called one of the greatest upsets in Olympic History

Born June 30, 1938 in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, Billy Mills is an Oglala Sioux Indian whose given Native-American name is Loves His Country. Although an outstanding long distance runner, Mills' accomplishment at the 1964 Summer Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan stands as one of the most shocking upsets in modern sports.

Mills grew up on an Oglala Sioux Indian reservation and was orphaned at the age of 12. He first became involved with distance running while attending the Haskell Institute, an Indian school in the city of Lawrence, Kansas. He had taken up running as part of a rigorous training program to become a boxer. However, he abandoned boxing in favor of running. His talent and hard work made him a natural at several distance events.

Mills entered the Univesity of Kansas in the late 1950s and proceeded to improve upon the times he had posted at the Haskell Institute. He was a 1958 and 1959 All-American in cross country while at Kansas. In 1960, Mills won the individual title in the Big Eight Conference's cross country tournament. The following year, Mills was the conference champion in the two-mile race with a time just over nine minutes. The Kansas team, filled with gifted track and field athletes, won the 1959 and 1960 NCAA outdoor national championships.

Mills went on to become a marine lieutenant and briefly abandoned running for a time. He concentrated on military life, but the lure of running pulled him back into the fray. While serving in the Marine Corps, he returned to racing, posting times that were good enough to qualify him for the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

Mills was one of three Kansas track legends at the games that year. Discus thrower Alfred A. Oerter, already a two-time gold medalist in the event, would win his third in Tokyo. Also in Japan was a slim 17 year old high schooler runner named Jim Ryun. Running in the first of his three Olympic games, Ryun would later set a world record in the mile.

Mills was entered in the 10,000 meter run, a race which no American had ever won in an Olympics. He was far from a high profile entrant. Many of the media hardly focused on the fact that he was even in the race. The lion's share of the attention was going to Australia's Ron Clarke, who at that time held the world record in the event. Tunisia's Mohammad Gammoudi also received much press as he was expected to be the chief rival of Clarke for the gold.

Each entrant had to qualify for the finals through a set of preliminary races. Mills' qualifying time was twenty nine minutes and ten seconds. Ron Clarke's time was nearly a minute faster. Such a performance gave Mills little hope of contending.

The race began on a wet track. Mills kept pace with the pack for the first several laps. With the final lap of the race just ahead, a pack of runners slowed Mills down slightly. He eventually worked his way back to the leaders during the final lap. Just before the final turn, he was still keeping pace with Clarke and Gammoudi, who by now had forced him to the outside of the running pack.

In the last 100 meters of the race, Mills surprisingly found a huge burst of energy and sprinted past his two surprised competitors. He held the lead as Clarke and Gammoudi fought unsuccessfully to catch Mills. Noticing the amazing events transpiring before him, one commentator began screaming on television "Oh my God, look at Mills! He's gonna win!"

Mills later said that he kept telling himself over and over that he could win. He broke the tape with a new Olympic record time of 28 minutes and 24 seconds. His last lap time had been a scathing 59.8 seconds, and his overall time was nearly a minute faster than his personal best time in the event.

A stunned crowd could not believe their eyes. Mills' notoriety was so low that a news person ran up to him after the race and said "Who are you?"

After the Olympics, Mills went on to set several other records in distance running before retiring from competition. In 1965, he set an outdoor world record in the six mile run, along with U.S. records in the 10,000 meter and three mile races. He remains active in native American causes today. The 1984 movie "Running Brave" was based on his victory.

To date, no other American has won a gold medal in the 10,000 meters.

© High Speed Ventures 2011