Billy Mills

Last updated

Billy Mills
Billy Mills and Mohammed Gammoudi 1964.jpg
Mills (left) and Gammoudi at the 1964 Olympics
Personal information
Native nameTamakoce Te'Hila
Full nameWilliam Mervin Mills
Nationality American
Born (1938-06-30) June 30, 1938 (age 81)
Pine Ridge, South Dakota, U.S. [1]
Alma mater Haskell Institute
University of Kansas
Height180 cm (5 ft 11 in) [1]
Weight68 kg (150 lb)
ClubU.S. Marine Corps
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s) 5000m : 13:41.4 [2]
10,000m : 28:17.6 [2]
Marathon : 2:22:56 [2]

William Mervin Mills (born June 30, 1938), also known as Tamakoce Te'Hila, is an Oglala Lakota former track and field athlete who won a gold medal in the 10,000 meter run (6.2 mi) at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. His 1964 victory is considered one of the greatest Olympic upsets because he was a virtual unknown going into the event. He was the first non-European to win the Olympic event and remains the only winner from the Americas. [3] A United States Marine, Billy Mills is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.



William Mervin Mills was born in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and was raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for Oglala Lakota people. His Lakota name, Tamakoce Te'Hila, loosely means "loves his country" or "respects the earth." [4] He was orphaned when he was twelve years old. [5] Mills took up running while attending the Haskell Institute, which is now known as Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas where he won the 1956 KSHSAA Class B State Championship in Cross Country. [6] Mills was both a boxer and a runner in his youth, but he gave up boxing to focus on running.

He attended the University of Kansas on an athletic scholarship and was a three-time NCAA All-America cross-country runner. In 1960 he won the individual title at the Big Eight cross-country championship. While he competed at Kansas, the track team won the 1959 and 1960 outdoor national championships.

After graduating in 1962 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. BillyMills Crossing Finish Line 1964Olympics.jpg
Billy Mills breaks the tape in the 10,000 m in the 1964 Olympics.

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 5,000 m in 1960.

Mills was a largely unknown as a runner. He had finished second to Gerry Lindgren in the U.S. Olympic trials. His time in the heats was a minute slower than Clarke's. Clarke set the tone of the race by using a tactic of surging every other lap. 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. He had run a world record time of 28:15.6, while neither Gammoudi nor Mills had previously run under 29 minutes.

Mills and Clarke were running together, with Gammoudi immediately behind, as they entered the final lap. They were lapping other runners, and Clarke was boxed in down the backstretch. 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 before won the 10,000 m, nor did any other American come close until Galen Rupp took the silver in the 2012 London Olympics.

American television viewers were able to hear the surprise and drama as NBC expert analyst Dick Bank [7] [8] screamed "Look at Mills! Look at Mills!" over the more sedate play-by-play announcer Bud Palmer, who seemed to miss what was unfolding. [9] For bringing drama to the coverage, Bank was fired. [10]

After the race, Mills talked with Clarke and asked if he was straining as hard as he could on the final straight 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 pass both Gammoudi and Clarke. Both Clarke and Mills ran the marathon after the 10,000 m event. Clarke finished in 9th place, and Mills finished in 14th, in 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 Billy Mills in 2010.jpg
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. [11]

Post-running career

Mills is the co-founder of the nonprofit Running Strong for American Indian Youth with Eugene Krizek. The aim of Running Strong is to help Native American 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 organization and travels the country empowering Native youth and encouraging them to follow their dreams. [12] Mills' charity work also includes diabetes prevention and management education for adults and especially for youth. Mills himself is Type 2 diabetic and helps people with diabetes learn how to maintain a healthy lifestyle and improve their lives. [13]

Legacy and honors


See also

Related Research Articles

Ron Clarke Australian long-distance runner

Ronald William "Ron" Clarke, AO, MBE was an Australian athlete, writer, and Mayor of the Gold Coast from 2004 to 2012. He was one of the best-known middle- and long-distance runners in the 1960s, notable for setting seventeen world records.

Lasse Virén Finnish long-distance runner and politician

Lasse Artturi Virén is a Finnish former long-distance runner, winner of four gold medals at the 1972 and 1976 Summer Olympics. Virén recaptured the image of the "Flying Finns" promoted by runners like Hannes Kolehmainen, Paavo Nurmi and Ville Ritola in the 1920s. He was elected Finnish Sportsman of the Year in 1972 and 1976 and later became a politician and a member of Finland's parliament in 1999–2007 and 2010–2011.

Nicholas Sparks American writer and novelist

Nicholas Charles Sparks is an American romance novelist and screenwriter. He has published twenty novels and two non-fiction books. Several of his novels have become international bestsellers, and eleven of his romantic-drama novels have been adapted to film all with multimillion-dollar box office grosses. His novels feature stories of tragic love with happy endings.

Bob Schul Athletics competitor, long distance runner

Robert Keyser "Bob" Schul is a former American long-distance runner. As of 2016, he is the only American to have won an Olympic gold medal in the 5000 m, at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Mohammed Gammoudi Tunisian athlete

Mohammed Tlili ben Abdallah, also known as Moham(m)ed Gammoudi, is a Tunisian athlete who competed as a long distance runner in international track and field competitions. He represented Tunisia in the Tokyo, Mexico City, and Munich Olympiads and recorded four medals, including a gold medal in the 5000 metres event in Mexico City. Gammoudi was also competitive at 10,000 metres.

USA Track & Field US national governing body for the sports of track and field

USA Track & Field (USATF) is the United States national governing body for the sports of track and field, cross country running, road running and racewalking. The USATF was known between 1979 and 1992 as The Athletics Congress (TAC) after its spin off from the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), which governed the sport in the US through most of the 20th century until the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 dissolved its responsibility.

Gerry Lindgren American long-distance runner

Gerald "Gerry" Paul Lindgren is an American track and field runner who set many long-standing high school and national records in the United States. In 1965, Lindgren and Billy Mills both broke the world record for the six-mile run when they finished in an extremely rare tie at the AAU National Championships, both running exactly 27:11.6. Lindgren went on to win a record 11 NCAA collegiate championships with Washington State University.

Deena Kastor athletics competitor, long distance runner, and marathoner

Deena Michelle Kastor is an American long-distance runner. She holds American records in the marathon and numerous road distances. She won the bronze medal in the women's marathon at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. She is also an eight-time national champion in cross country.

John Lee Gray Jr. is a retired American world class 800 meter runner from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s and the holder of the 600m world best. A four-time-Olympian (1984-1996) in 1985 he set the US record of 1:42.60 at a meet in Koblenz. That time puts Gray as the eighteenth fastest performer of all time. He came seventh in the 1984 Summer Olympics, fifth in 1988, and won the bronze medal at the Barcelona Olympics of 1992. In 1993 Gray was one of the favourites to win a gold medal at the World Championships in Stuttgart as he had won the A-race at the prestigious meeting in Zurich. However, he failed to qualify for the final in Stuttgart. He also set the world 600 meter record in 1986 at 1:12.81. In 1992 and 1993 Gray came close to breaking the world indoor record over 800 m several times. He held the US indoor record at 1:45.00 till February 2019.

Athletics at the 1964 Summer Olympics – Mens 10,000 metres

The men's 10,000 metres was the longest of the seven men's track races in the Athletics at the 1964 Summer Olympics program in Tokyo. It was held on 14 October. 38 athletes from 23 nations entered, with 6 more not starting the event. The event was held as a single heat.

Craig Steven Virgin is an American distance runner. He was born in Belleville, Illinois and grew up near Lebanon, Illinois. While in high school, Virgin won 5 state championships as well as setting the national outdoor high school 2-mile record of 8:40.9. Additionally, Virgin held the Illinois Boys Cross Country all-time state championship record for 47 years, running a 13:50.6 in 1972, a record that stood until November 9, 2019 when Josh Methner of John Hersey High School ran a 13:49.86. Virgin was Track and Field News "High School Athlete of the Year" in 1973.

Joe McCluskey was an American track and field athlete. During his running career, he won 27 national titles in various distance events and captured the steeplechase title a record nine times in a 13-year period.

Payton Jordan was the head coach of the 1968 United States Olympic track and field team, one of the most powerful track teams ever assembled, which won a record twenty-four medals, including twelve golds. He was born in Whittier, California. Jordan was exceedingly successful as a collegiate track coach for a decade at Occidental College and for 23 years at Stanford University. A star three-sport athlete in his youth, Jordan more recently became one of the most dominant track athletes of all time, as a sprinter, in senior divisions. Jordan died of cancer at his home in Laguna Hills, California on February 5, 2009.

Lewis Tewanima athletics competitor

Louis Tewanima, also spelled Lewis Tewanima, was an American two-time Olympic distance runner and silver medalist in the 10,000 meter run in 1912. He was a Hopi Indian and ran for the Carlisle Indian School where he was a teammate of Jim Thorpe. His silver medal in 1912 remained the best U.S. achievement in this event until another Native American, Billy Mills, won the gold medal in 1964. Tewanima also competed at the 1908 Olympics, where he finished in ninth place in the marathon.

Doris Brown Heritage American middle- and long-distance runner

Doris Brown Heritage is a retired American runner. She won the International Cross Country Championships five times in a row, in 1967–1971. She collected silver medals in the 800 m at the Pan American Games, in 1967 and 1971. She placed fifth in the 800 at the 1968 Summer Olympics. Brown briefly held the world record in the 3000 m in 1971. After retiring from competitions she had a long career as a running coach, and helped prepare the national women's team to the 1984 Summer Olympics. She was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, National Track Coaches Hall of Fame and National Distance Running Hall of Fame.

Oglala traditional tribal grouping within the Lakota people

The Oglala are one of the seven subtribes of the Lakota people who, along with the Dakota, make up the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ. A majority of the Oglala live on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the eighth-largest Native American reservation in the United States.

Patrick ("Pat") Ralph Porter was an American distance runner. Born in Wadena, Minnesota, he graduated from Adams State in 1982 with a degree in marketing, after which he became one of the most dominant U.S. distance runners of the 1980s. Porter was a two time U.S. Olympian, running the 10000 meters at the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games. In 1983 he set the World Record for a road 10K at 27:31.8. He won the silver medal at the 1985 IAAF World Cup in Canberra, Australia, getting nipped at the tape by Ethiopia's Wodajo Bulti by six hundredths of a second.

<i>Running Brave</i> 1983 film by Donald Shebib

Running Brave is a Canadian biographical sports drama film released in 1983.

Frances Anne "Francie" Larrieu Smith is an American track and field athlete. She was the flagbearer at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona for the United States of America. Larrieu Smith was the third female American athlete to make five American Olympic teams, behind the six of fencer Jan York-Romary and Track and Field's Willye White. The feat was later equaled by basketball player Teresa Edwards, track and field's Gail Devers, cyclist/speedskater Chris Witty and swimmer Dara Torres. After one of the longest elite careers on record, she has retired from that level of competition.

Running Strong for American Indian Youth

Running Strong for American Indian Youth, or just Running Strong, is a non-profit organization that was co-founded by Olympic Gold Medalist Billy Mills, along with Gene Krizek, founder of Christian Relief Services Charities. Running Strong, also known as American Indian Youth Running Strong, Inc., operates under the umbrella of Christian Relief Services Charities with the mission “to help American Indian people meet their immediate survival needs – food, water, and shelter – while implementing and supporting programs designed to create opportunities for self-sufficiency and self-esteem.”


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Billy Mills.
  2. 1 2 3 "Billy MILLS - Athlete Profile". IAAF .
  3. 1 2 "Marine Corps History Division". Marine Corps History Division, United States Marine Corps. August 13, 2008. Archived from the original on April 8, 2007. Retrieved August 14, 2008. 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 has been described as the biggest upset in the history of the Olympic 10,000-meter run (and one of the biggest of all time in any Olympic event). Mills is still the only American ever to win a gold medal in that event.
  4. Wise, Mike (October 29, 2005). "Olympic Legend Billy Mills: One Man Is Still Going the Distance for Two Nations". The Washington Post .
  5. 1 2 3 Dembosky, April (June 9, 2012). "The Olympians: Billy Mills, USA". Financial Times Magazine .
  6. (PDF) or empty |title= (help)
  7. Track & Field News • View topic – Look At Archived February 27, 2012, at the Wayback Machine . (June 30, 2010). Retrieved on 2011-04-18.
  9. 1964 Olympic 10,000m on YouTube (April 9, 2008). Retrieved on 2011-04-18.
  10. "TV COLUMN: Bank's call made Mills' upset even more memorable". U-T San Diego.
  11. Statistics – USA Outdoor Track & Field Champions Archived June 10, 2011, at the Wayback Machine . USATF. Retrieved on April 18, 2011.
  12. "Running Strong for American Indian Youth". Retrieved March 4, 2010.
  13. Wahowiak, Lindsey. "Runner Billy Mills Keeps Making Strides". Retrieved October 9, 2014.
  14. Hall of Fame. USATF. Retrieved on April 18, 2011.
  15. "SCOUTING; A 'Fraternity' Excludes Spitz". New York Times. July 31, 1984.
  16. "President Obama to Honor Recipients of the 2012 Citizens Medal". US White House. Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  17. "Billy Mills to receive NCAA's 2014 Theodore Roosevelt Award". NCAA. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  18. "SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 5083". Virginia's Legislative Information System. September 18, 2014. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  19. "2014 ADL In Concert Against Hate Honorees". ADL. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  20. "PCFSN Lifetime Achievement Award". President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. Retrieved May 14, 2015.
  21. Tippett, Krista (August 18, 2016). "Running as a Spiritual". On Being .
  23. Jones, Elvyn (February 26, 2018). "Lawrence school board approves changing name of South to Billy Mills Middle School". Lawrence Journal-World. Retrieved May 22, 2018.
  24. "National Native American Hall of Fame names first twelve historic inductees -". Retrieved October 22, 2018.
  25. Mills, Billy; Sparks, Nicholas (July 1999). Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding. Hay House. p. 176. ISBN   978-1-56170-660-0.
  26. Mills, Billy (July 1, 2005). Lessons of a Lakota. Hay House. p. 192. ISBN   978-1401905651.