Billy Mills

Billy Mills Is Still Golden, 50 Years Later

Rodney Harwood
4/24/14

Billy Mills has always known winning the Olympic gold medal in the 10,000 meter-run at the 1964 Tokyo Games was a gift from the Creator.

Even today, 50 years after the fact, the Lakota elder, who spends 300 days a year on the road as the national spokesman for Running Strong for American Indian Youth, draws the same conclusion. “All I tried to do, what my dad would always say, was ‘Go in pursuit of a dream that heals a broken soul,’” Mills told ICTMN. “I came so close to suicide when I was in college, that I knew I needed a dream that would heal a broken soul. The dream became to be a gold medallist in the 10,000-meter run. I took the culture. I took our traditions. I took our spirituality and I extracted those values in whatever I did. To win the gold medal is very humbling. It’s a gift from the Creator.”

Like the story fires of olden time, Mills’ story has been told and retold as legendary deeds often are. Runner’s World lists it as the No. 2 story in the magazine’s 10 greatest moments in Olympic distance running history. Mills recalls a conversation he had with good friend and 1964 silver medallist Mohamed Gammoudi of Tunisia that put a new perspective to a historic moment.

Mills and his wife, Pat, attended the 2012 Games in London where they watched silver medallist Galen Rupp become the first American in 48 years to medal in the 10,000 meters. It was a far cry from 1964 when Billy had to take out a $1,000 bank loan to pay for Pat’s travel to Tokyo to be at his Olympic race. As they watched an American take the podium for the first time since 1964, he and Gammoudi discussed a day long ago. Gammoudi’s daughter Nadia served as the interpreter for the Lakota warrior and the African distance running pioneer.

“She told me, ‘My daddy was so, so happy for you,’ ” Mills recalled. “I asked why he was happy? I beat him. She said, ‘My daddy said that anybody that won in the manner that you did, it was your time. It was like a gift.”

Mills might have been an unknown when the race started, but by the bell lap the world knew he was for real. He moved up on the shoulder of race favorite Ron Clarke of Australia, who the world record holder at the time, as they started into the curve. 

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