William M. "Billy" Mills... born in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, on June 30, 1938... stunning upset in the 10,000-meter run during 1964 Olympics in Tokyo... only American to ever win gold in that event...set a world record in the six-mile run at AAU Championships in 1965...voted one of America's "Outstanding Young Men" in 1972...life story detailing road to Olympic victory in 1984 film "Running Brave".
William M. "Billy" Mills was born in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, on June 30, 1938. 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.
An exceptional runner at the University of Kansas, he was coached by Bill Easton and continued to develop as a long-distance runner. 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.
After entering the Marine Corps, Mills was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in December, 1962, and on graduation from The Basic School, Quantico, Virginia, he was designated a Basic Motor Transport Officer. During his three years on Active Duty, Mills served as a Motor Transport Officer with Service Battalion at Quantico and with Truck Company, 1st Force Service Regiment, Camp Pendleton, California. He also traveled around the world competing in distance-running events.
Mills is perhaps best known for his stunning upset in the 10,000-meter run during the 1964 Olympics held in Tokyo, Japan. 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?"
The following year, he set a world record in the six-mile run at the Amateur Athletic Union Championships. Mills left active duty in December 1965. He continued to serve in the Marine Corps Reserve until September 1971. He resigned as a Captain.
After leaving the Marine Corps, Mills continued running and became active in Native American affairs. He was named one of America's "Outstanding Young Men" in 1972. The 1984 film "Running Brave" details Mills' road to victory at the Olympics.
Today, Mills is a successful businessman, author, and speaker.