Billy Mills

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Billy Mills
Billy Mills and Mohammed Gammoudi 1964.jpg
Mills (left) and Gammoudi at the 1964 Olympics
Personal information
Native nameTamakhóčhe Theȟíla
Full nameWilliam Mervin Mills
NationalityOglala Sioux Tribe, American
Born (1938-06-30) June 30, 1938 (age 84)
Pine Ridge, South Dakota, U.S.[1]
Alma materHaskell 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]
Medal record
Representing the  United States
Olympic Games
Gold medal – first place 1964 Tokyo 10,000 m

William Mervin Mills (born June 30, 1938), also known as Tamakhóčhe Theȟíla, is an American Oglala Lakota former track and field athlete who won a gold medal in the 10,000 metre 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, Mills is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Early life and education[edit]

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, Tamakhóčhe Theȟíla, 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]

Remarkably, Billy never owned his own pair of new shoes until the night before the Olympic Games. [7][8]

1964 Olympics[edit]

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 metres 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 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[9][10] screamed "Look at Mills! Look at Mills!" over the more sedate play-by-play announcer Bud Palmer, who seemed to miss what was unfolding.[11] For bringing drama to the coverage, Bank was fired.[12]

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, six-and-a-half minutes behind bronze medalist Tsuburaya 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.[13]

Post-running career[edit]

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.[14] 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.[15]

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • In 1976, Mills was inducted into the United States National Track and Field Hall of Fame.[16]
  • 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.[17]
  • In 1984, he was inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • Mills is the subject of the 1983 movie Running Brave,[1][5] 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.[5]
  • President Barack Obama awarded Mills the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal, for his work with the Running Strong for American Indian Youth organization.[18]
  • In 2014, Mills was awarded the NCAA's highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Award.[19]
  • In 2014, the Virginia State Senate passed a joint resolution commending Mills on the 50th Anniversary of his Olympic win.[20]
  • The Anti-Defamation League honored Mills as a 2014 ADL In Concert Against Hate Honoree.[21]
  • In 2015, The President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition awarded Mills the President's Council Lifetime Achievement Award, which is given each year to up to 5 individuals "whose careers have greatly contributed to the advancement or promotion of physical activity, fitness, sports, or nutrition nationwide."[22]
  • Mills was one of several athletes featured on the August 18, 2016, On Being episode "Running as a Spiritual Practice".[23]
  • In 2017 accomplishments immortalized with a plaque in Sacramento's Walk of Stars. The star is set into the sidewalk on the south side of L Street between 18th and 19th streets in Sacramento, CA.[24]
  • On 26 February 2018, Lawrence Unified School District 497 voted to change the name of South Middle School to Billy Mills Middle School.[25]
  • In October 2018, Mills became one of the inductees in the first induction ceremony held by the National Native American Hall of Fame.[26]


  • 1990, Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding, written with Nicholas Sparks.[27]
  • 2005, Lessons of a Lakota.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; et al. "Billy Mills". Olympics at Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on April 17, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c "Billy MILLS - Athlete Profile". IAAF.
  3. ^ a b "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 metre race at the 1964 Olympic Games. His victory has been described as the biggest upset in the history of the Olympic 10,000-metre 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. ^ a b c Dembosky, April (June 9, 2012). "The Olympians: Billy Mills, USA". Financial Times Magazine.
  6. ^ "Boys State Cross Country Champions (Kansas State High School Activities Association), p. 15, top" (PDF). Cross Country History.
  7. ^ "Billy Mills: From unknown to 1964 Olympic gold medalist". Retrieved January 11, 2023.
  8. ^ "From Poverty to Olympic Gold". Retrieved January 11, 2023.
  9. ^ Track & Field News • View topic – Look At Archived February 27, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. (June 30, 2010). Retrieved on 2011-04-18.
  10. ^ "USA Track & Field | USATF mourns the loss of Harry Groves and Dick Bank".
  11. ^ 1964 Olympic 10,000m on YouTube (April 9, 2008). Retrieved on 2011-04-18.
  12. ^ "TV COLUMN: Bank's call made Mills' upset even more memorable". U-T San Diego. August 10, 2012.
  13. ^ Statistics – USA Outdoor Track & Field Champions Archived June 10, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. USATF. Retrieved on April 18, 2011.
  14. ^ "Running Strong for American Indian Youth". Retrieved March 4, 2010.
  15. ^ Wahowiak, Lindsey. "Runner Billy Mills Keeps Making Strides". Retrieved October 9, 2014.
  16. ^ Hall of Fame. USATF. Retrieved on April 18, 2011.
  17. ^ "SCOUTING; A 'Fraternity' Excludes Spitz". The New York Times. July 31, 1984.
  18. ^ "President Obama to Honor Recipients of the 2012 Citizens Medal". February 8, 2013. Retrieved February 15, 2013 – via National Archives.
  19. ^ "Billy Mills to receive NCAA's 2014 Theodore Roosevelt Award". NCAA. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  20. ^ "SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 5083". Virginia's Legislative Information System. September 18, 2014. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  21. ^ "2014 ADL In Concert Against Hate Honorees". ADL. Retrieved November 14, 2014.
  22. ^ "PCFSN Lifetime Achievement Award". President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. Retrieved May 14, 2015.
  23. ^ Tippett, Krista (August 18, 2016). "Running as a Spiritual". On Being.
  24. ^ "Meet the newest Sacramentans honored on the Walk of Stars | The Sacramento Bee". Archived from the original on September 28, 2017.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ "National Native American Hall of Fame names first twelve historic inductees -". Archived from the original on October 22, 2018. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ Mills, Billy (July 1, 2005). Lessons of a Lakota. Hay House. p. 192. ISBN 978-1401905651.

External links[edit]