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Billy Mills

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Title: Billy Mills  
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Subject: Lakota people, Native Americans in the United States, Running Brave, SoundEye Festival, National Distance Running Hall of Fame
Collection: 1938 Births, American Long-Distance Runners, American Marathon Runners, Athletes (Track and Field) at the 1964 Summer Olympics, Kansas Jayhawks Athletes, Lakota People, Living People, National Distance Running Hall of Fame Inductees, Native American Sportspeople, Olympic Gold Medalists for the United States, Olympic Medalists in Athletics (Track and Field), Olympic Track and Field Athletes of the United States, People from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota, United States Marine Corps Officers, University of Kansas Alumni
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Billy Mills

Billy Mills
Mills at the 1964 Tokyo Games
Personal information
Native name Makata Taka Hela
Full name William Mervin Mills
Nationality American
Born (1938-06-30) June 30, 1938
Pine Ridge, South Dakota, USA
Alma mater Haskell Institute
University of Kansas
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s) 5000 meters: 13:41.4[1]
10,000 meters: 28:17.6[1]
Marathon: 2:22:56[1]

William Mervin "Billy" Mills, also known as Makata Taka Hela (born June 30, 1938), is the second Native American (after Jim Thorpe) to win an Olympic gold medal.[2] He accomplished this feat in the 10,000 meter run (6.2 mi) at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, becoming the only person from the western hemisphere to win the Olympic gold in this event. His 1964 victory is considered one of the greatest of Olympic upsets.[3] A former United States Marine, Billy Mills is a member of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Tribe.


  • Biography 1
    • 1964 Olympics 1.1
    • Post-Olympics 1.2
  • Post-running career 2
  • Legacy and honors 3
  • Books 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


William Mervin Mills was born in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and was raised on the impoverished Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for Oglala Sioux people. He was orphaned when he was twelve years old.[4] Mills took up running while attending the Haskell Institute, which is now known as Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. Both a boxer and a runner in his youth, Mills gave up boxing to focus on running.

He attended the University of Kansas on an athletic scholarship. He was named a NCAA All-America cross-country runner three times and in 1960 he won the individual title in the Big Eight cross-country championship. The University of Kansas track team won the 1959 and 1960 outdoor national championships while Mills was on the team.

After graduating with a degree in Physical Education, Mills entered the United States Marine Corps. He was a First Lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve when he competed in the 1964 Olympics.[3]

1964 Olympics

Billy Mills breaks the tape in the 10,000 m in the 1964 Olympics. U.S. Marine Corps photo

Billy Mills qualified for the 1964 Summer Olympics on the U.S. Track and Field Team in the 10,000 meter and the marathon. The favorite in 1964 for the 10,000 m was Ron Clarke of Australia who held the world record. The runners expected to challenge him were defending champion Pyotr Bolotnikov of the Soviet Union, and Murray Halberg of New Zealand, who had won the 5000 m in 1960.

Mills was a virtual unknown. He had finished second in the U.S. Olympic trials. His time in the preliminaries was a full minute slower than Clarke's. Clarke set the tone of the race. His tactic of surging every other lap appeared to be working. Halfway through the race, only four runners were still with Clarke: Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia, Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia, Kokichi Tsuburaya of Japan, and Mills. Tsuburaya, the local favorite, lost contact first, then Wolde. With two laps to go, only two runners were still with Clarke. On paper, it seemed to be Clarke's race. He had run a world record time of 28:15.6 while neither Gammoudi nor Mills had ever run under 29 minutes.

Mills and Clarke were running together with Gammoudi right behind as they entered the final lap. They were lapping other runners and, down the backstretch, Clarke was boxed in. He pushed Mills once, then again. Then Gammoudi pushed them both and surged into the lead as they rounded the final curve. Clarke recovered and began chasing Gammoudi while Mills appeared to be too far back to be in contention. Clarke failed to catch Gammoudi, but Mills pulled out to lane 4 and sprinted past them both. His winning time of 28:24.4 was almost 50 seconds faster than he had run before and set a new Olympic record for the event. No American had ever before won the 10,000 m, nor has any other American come seriously close until Galen Rupp took the silver at the 2012 London Olympics.

American television viewers were able to hear the surprise and drama as NBC expert analyst Dick Bank[5] screamed, "Look at Mills, look at Mills" over the more sedate play-by-play announcer Bud Palmer, who seemed to miss what was unfolding.[6] For bringing that drama to the coverage, Bank was fired.[7]

After the race, Mills talked with Clarke and asked if he was straining as hard as he could on the final straightaway to the finish, to which Clarke replied, "Yes." Mills has stated that he tried to be relaxed during his final kick to the finish line and felt that helped him to pass both Gammoudi and Clarke. Both Clarke and Mills ran the marathon at the 1964 Olympics after the 10,000 m event. Clarke finished in 9th place, and Mills finished in 14th, in a respectable 2:22:55.4, approximately two-and-a-half minutes behind Clarke and about 10 minutes behind winner Abebe Bikila.


Mills speaking at Schofield Barracks in November 2010

Mills later set U.S. records for 10,000 m (28:17.6) and the three-mile run, and had a 5,000 m best of 13:41.4. In 1965, he and Gerry Lindgren both broke the world record for the six-mile run when they finished in a tie at the AAU National Championships, running 27:11.6.[8]

Post-running career

Mills is the co-founder of the nonprofit group Running Strong for American Indian Youth with Eugene Krizek. The aim of Running Strong is to help American Indian people fulfill their basic needs -food, water, and shelter- while also helping their communities gain self-sufficiency and self-esteem. He now acts as a spokesperson for the group and travels the country speaking out for and on behalf of Native American communities.[9] Mills charity work also includes diabetes prevention and management education for adults and especially for youth. Being a diabetes patient himself Mills helps people with diabetes learn how to maintain a healthy lifestyle and improve their lives.[10]

Legacy and honors

  • In 1976, Mills was inducted into the United States National Track and Field Hall of Fame.[11]
  • In 1984, he was one of a select group of former American Olympians given the honor of carrying the Olympic flag into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum at the opening ceremony of the Games of the XXIII Olympiad.[12]
  • In 1984, he was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.
  • He has also been inducted into the National Distance Running Hall of Fame, the Kansas Hall of Fame, the South Dakota Hall of Fame, the San Diego Hall of Fame, and the National High School Hall of Fame.
  • Mills is the subject of the 1983 movie Running Brave,[4] in which he is portrayed by Robby Benson.
  • Mills has produced a book, Lessons of a Lakota, made speaking tours, and sponsored some events. He lives near Sacramento, California.[4]
  • [13]
  • In 2014, Mills was awarded the NCAA's highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Award.[14]
  • In 2014, the Virginia State Senate passed a joint resolution commending Mills on the 50th Anniversary of his Olympic win. [15]
  • The Anti-Defamation League honored Mills as a 2014 ADL In Concert Against Hate Honoree. [16]


  • 1990, Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding, written with Nicholas Sparks.[17]
  • 2005, Lessons of a Lakota.

See also


  1. ^ a b c All-Athletics. "Profile of Billy Mills". 
  2. ^ Jim Thorpe won two gold medals in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, but they were later taken away when it was learned that he had played two seasons of minor-league baseball prior to the Olympics (and marred his amateur status). In 1983 the two gold medals were reinstated.
  3. ^ a b "Marine Corps History Division". Marine Corps History Division, United States Marine Corps. August 13, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-14. Then-1stLt William 'Billy' Mills, USMCR, wove through a field of lapped runners and passed the race favorite, Ron Clarke of Australia, to win the 10,000 meter race at the 1964 Olympic Games. His victory is described as one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history and he is still the only American ever to win a gold medal in that event. 
  4. ^ a b c April Dembosky (June 9, 2012). "The Olympians: Billy Mills, USA".  
  5. ^ Track & Field News • View topic – Look At. (2010-06-30). Retrieved on 2011-04-18.
  6. ^ 1964 Olympic 10,000m on YouTube (2008-04-09). Retrieved on 2011-04-18.
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Statistics – USA Outdoor Track & Field Champions. USATF. Retrieved on 2011-04-18.
  9. ^ "Running Strong for American Indian Youth". Retrieved 2010-03-04. 
  10. ^ Wahowiak, Lindsey. "Runner Billy Mills Keeps Making Strides". Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  11. ^ Hall of Fame. USATF. Retrieved on 2011-04-18.
  12. ^ "SCOUTING; A 'Fraternity' Excludes Spitz". 
  13. ^ "President Obama to Honor Recipients of the 2012 Citizens Medal". US White House. Retrieved 2013-02-15. 
  14. ^ "Billy Mills to receive NCAA's 2014 Theodore Roosevelt Award". NCAA. Retrieved 2014-04-16. 
  15. ^ "SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 5083". Virginia's Legislative Information System. 2014-09-18. Retrieved 2014-11-14. 
  16. ^ "2014 ADL In Concert Against Hate Honorees". ADL. Retrieved 2014-11-14. 
  17. ^ Billy Mills;  

External links

  • Billy Mills, USA Track and Field Hall of Fame
  • Running Strong for American Indian Youth Website
  • Billy Mills, Running Past
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