Billy Mills
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Billy Mills
Billy Mills
Billy Mills and Mohammed Gammoudi 1964.jpg
Mills (left) and Gammoudi at the 1964 Olympics
Personal information
Native name Makata Taka Hela
Full name William Mervin Mills
Nationality Native American
Born (1938-06-30) June 30, 1938 (age 79)
Pine Ridge, South Dakota, U.S.[1]
Alma mater Haskell Institute
University of Kansas
Height 180 cm (5 ft 11 in)[1]
Weight 68 kg (150 lb)
Sport Athletics
Club U.S. Marine Corps
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s) 5000 meters: 13:41.4[2]
10,000 meters: 28:17.6[2]
Marathon: 2:22:56[2]

William Mervin "Billy" Mills, also known as Makata Taka Hela (born June 30, 1938), is a Native American who won a gold medal in the Olympic Games.[3] He accomplished this feat in the 10,000 meter run (6.2 mi) at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, becoming the only person from the Western hemisphere to win the Olympic gold in this event. His 1964 victory is considered one of the greatest Olympic upsets, because he was a virtual unknown going into the event.[4] A United States Marine, Billy Mills is a member of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Tribe.


William Mervin Mills was born in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and was raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for Oglala Sioux people. His given native name, Makata Taka Hela, loosely means "love your country."[5] He was orphaned when he was twelve years old.[6] Mills took up running while attending the Haskell Institute, which is now known as Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. 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 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 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.[4]

1964 Olympics

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 virtual unknown. He had finished second to Gerry Lindgren in the U.S. Olympic trials. His time in the heats was a full minute slower than Clarke's time. 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. On paper, it seemed to be Clarke's race. He had run a world record time of 28:15.6, while neither Gammoudi nor Mills had ever run under 29 minutes.

Mills and Clarke were running together, with Gammoudi right 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 ever before won the 10,000 m, nor had 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] screamed "Look at Mills! Look at Mills!" over the more sedate play-by-play announcer Bud Palmer, who seemed to miss what was unfolding.[8] For bringing that drama to the coverage, Bank was fired.[9]

After the race, Mills talked with Clarke and asked if he was straining as hard as he could on the final straightaway 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 a respectable 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

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.[10]

Post-running career

Mills is the co-founder of the nonprofit group 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 group and travels the country speaking out for and on behalf of Native American communities.[11] Mills' charity work also includes diabetes prevention and management education for adults and especially for youth. Mills is a diabetes patient himself and helps people with diabetes learn how to maintain a healthy lifestyle and improve their lives.[12]

Legacy and honors

  • In 1976, Mills was inducted into the United States National Track and Field Hall of Fame.[13]
  • 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.[14]
  • 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][6] 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.[6]
  • President Barack Obama awarded Mills the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal, for his work with the Running Strong for American Indian Youth organization.[15]
  • In 2014, Mills was awarded the NCAA's highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Award.[16]
  • In 2014, the Virginia State Senate passed a joint resolution commending Mills on the 50th Anniversary of his Olympic win.[17]
  • The Anti-Defamation League honored Mills as a 2014 ADL In Concert Against Hate Honoree.[18]
  • 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." [19]
  • Mills was one of several athletes featured on the August 18, 2016, On Being episode "Running as a Spiritual Practice".[20]


  • 1990, Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding, written with Nicholas Sparks.[21]
  • 2005, Lessons of a Lakota.[22]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Billy Mills.
  2. ^ a b c All-Athletics. "Profile of Billy Mills". 
  3. ^ Jim Thorpe won two gold medals in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, but they were later taken away when it was learned that he had played two seasons of minor-league baseball prior to the Olympics (and marred his amateur status). In 1983 the two gold medals were reinstated.
  4. ^ a b "Marine Corps History Division". Marine Corps History Division, United States Marine Corps. August 13, 2008. Retrieved 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. 
  5. ^ Wise, Mike (October 29, 2005). "Olympic Legend Billy Mills: One Man Is Still Going the Distance for Two Nations". The Washington Post. 
  6. ^ a b c April Dembosky (June 9, 2012). "The Olympians: Billy Mills, USA". Financial Times Magazine. 
  7. ^ Track & Field News o View topic - Look At Archived February 27, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.. (June 30, 2010). Retrieved on 2011-04-18.
  8. ^ 1964 Olympic 10,000m on YouTube (April 9, 2008). Retrieved on 2011-04-18.
  9. ^ "TV COLUMN: Bank's call made Mills' upset even more memorable". U-T San Diego. 
  10. ^ Statistics - USA Outdoor Track & Field Champions Archived June 10, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.. USATF. Retrieved on April 18, 2011.
  11. ^ "Running Strong for American Indian Youth". Retrieved 2010. 
  12. ^ Wahowiak, Lindsey. "Runner Billy Mills Keeps Making Strides". Retrieved 2014. 
  13. ^ Hall of Fame. USATF. Retrieved on April 18, 2011.
  14. ^ "SCOUTING; A 'Fraternity' Excludes Spitz". New York Times. July 31, 1984. 
  15. ^ "President Obama to Honor Recipients of the 2012 Citizens Medal". US White House. Retrieved 2013. 
  16. ^ "Billy Mills to receive NCAA's 2014 Theodore Roosevelt Award". NCAA. Retrieved 2014. 
  17. ^ "SENATE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 5083". Virginia's Legislative Information System. September 18, 2014. Retrieved 2014. 
  18. ^ "2014 ADL In Concert Against Hate Honorees". ADL. Retrieved 2014. 
  19. ^ "PCFSN Lifetime Achievement Award". President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. Retrieved 2015. 
  20. ^ Tippett, Krista (August 18, 2016). "Running as a Spiritual". On Being. 
  21. ^ Mills, Billy; Nicholas Sparks (July 1999). Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding. Hay House. p. 176. ISBN 978-1-56170-660-0. 
  22. ^ Mills, Billy (July 1, 2005). Lessons of a Lakota. Hay House. p. 192. ISBN 978-1401905651. 

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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