Running Strong
Billy Mills won the Olympic Gold Medal in Tokyo for the 10,000 meter run 50 years ago today.

Billy Mills Milestone: 50 Years Since Olympic Gold Win


Fifty years ago today, Billy Mills was in Tokyo running the most memorable race of his life. Mills, now 76, is still the only American in track and field history to win an Olympic gold medal in the 10,000 meter run.

An unimaginable fete for a kid raised in poverty on the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Reservation in South Dakota. But before losing both his parents early on, his father told him, “You have broken wings. If you follow your dreams, then someday you'll have the wings of an eagle.”

A bit of inspiration that taught Mills to never give up.

“For me it was a form of self-hypnosis and I visualized [it] dozens of times a day,” Mills told the Citizen TImes. It was also something he wrote about in his journal. “I put in my journal that I must believe I can run with the best in the world and beat them in Tokyo,” he told

Mills was a student at Haskell Indian Nations University before earning an athletic scholarship to Kansas University. At KU, he was named NCAA All American in cross country three times before eventually graduating in 1962. Mills was also part of the Jayhawks’ 1959 and 1960 NCAA Championship team in outdoor track.

When he placed second in the 1964 trial runs in Culver City, California, he was a First Lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserves, and had already married Patricia Harris, who attended Kansas University.

Patricia Mills, Billy’s wife wrote in a news release, “50 years ago today, I was in the stands and watched as my husband, Billy Mills, achieved his dream of winning Olympic gold in the 10,000 meters in Tokyo. I didn’t think I could ever be more proud. But it’s what Billy and I have done together since his race that fills me with even more pride.”

RELATED: Billy Mills to Receive 2012 Citizens Medal on February 15 From President Barack Obama

RELATED: Olympian Billy Mills to Receive the NCAA Theodore Roosevelt Award

Mills has been inducted into at least eight Hall of Fames, including the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, which came in 1984, but an equally, perhaps, more important, point of pride is their foundation Running Strong for American Indian Youth.The foundation fosters hope in Native youth to create positive change in their communities. It was founded in 1986.

“It’s the daily decisions we make in life,” Mills told the Rapid City Journal, about his Olympic upset, “Not just the talent we possess that choreographs our destiny.”

You can read more about the 50th anniversary celebration of Mills' gold medal at Or celebrate this milestone by sending Billy a message of congratulations.


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marten's picture
Submitted by marten on
From a humble environment such as a reservation, comes a blessed triumph. As an African priest, said: "God is good; All the time. All the time, God is good!" Don't forget, from another humble, Indian environment, came one of our first canonized American saints!