Billy Mills: Beat the odds on the world’s biggest stage
By Joseph Budd
Native Sun News Today Staff Writer
Coming from a poor county in South Dakota, Mills, known as Tamakoce Te’Hila, had a habit of overcoming long odds. Orphaned at age 12, He would take up running at the Haskell Institute, now known as the Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence Kansas and captured his first title in 1956 running in Cross Country. Participating in both Boxing and running, he would set aside the boxing to focus on running.
Attending the University of Kansas on an athletic scholarship, he would become a three-time NCAA All-America Cross Country runner, and in 1960 would win the individual title at the Big Eight cross country championship. When he competed at Kansas in Track, the team would win national titles in 1959 and 1960.
Two years later he graduated with a degree in physical education and joined the Marine Corps, and was a First Lieutenant in the Reserve, when he would compete in the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Mills, after having qualified with the US Track and Field team in 1964, was considered unknown, with a field made up for several familiar names in the event, and in the US Olympic Trials, Mills had come in second to Gerry Lindgren. The primary challenger he’d face, Ron Clarke of Australia, would be a minute faster than his time, and the defending champion, Pyotr Bolonikov from the Soviet Union, and Murray Halberg from New Zealand, was also competing, with Halberg also capturing the 5000m in 1960.
As the runners would compete, a variety of runners would use some strategy to compete. Clarke, for example would dig in deep, and every other lap would surge, to try and gain some extra distance on his competitors. This process helped him separate from the main part of the field, and halfway along, only 5 runners were within distance of Clarke. And Mills was still staying close, waiting for his turn.
With only two laps left to go, Clarke found his challengers down to two others. Mills, and a fellow named Mohammed Gammoudi from Tunisia. For the final lap, and in the process lapping slower runners, the three would see Miles and Clarke running side by side, with Gammoudi immediately behind. Clarke, boxed in down the backstretch would push Mills twice, then Gammoudi would push them both to surge into the lead. Clarke would recover, and start chasing Gammoudi, when it appeared Mills was too far back to be in contention. But in a brilliant piece of running, Mills went to the 4th lane…and sprinted.
Mills, would put in a time of 28:24.4, almost 50 seconds faster than he had run before, and set a new Olympic record for the event. To date, no American, has before won the event, or has captured Gold in the 10000m, since.