Track is my field: Mark Cullen's international track and field blog featuring storytelling, commentary, and predictions and event analyses for the Olympics and World Championships. I'm writing from the 2017 World Championships in London. I'm active on twitter: @trackerati
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Billy Mills 50th Anniversary Tribute
Congratulations to Billy Mills on the 50th Anniversary of his historic Tokyo Olympic 10,000 win October 14, 1964
*Most Memorable Quote
The second time I saw
1964 Olympic 10,000m champion Billy Mills was at the 2014 US Outdoor National
Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, CA, when he hosted a 10k
fund-raising race for his foundation, Running Strong for American Indian Youth.
It was held in conjunction with the men’s and women’s outdoor track 10,000m
national championship races.
One of the highlights
of the championships was watching Mills watch the last lap of the women’s race,
a classic, dramatic duel between Kim Conley and Jordan Hasay won by Conley in
the last few meters of the race – sound familiar?!
Mills was much in evidence during the championships. He served as an ambassador
of the sport as he engaged fans of all ages in conversations in the stands.
I was privileged and
honored to have the opportunity to introduce Mills to a large and enthusiastic
crowd of high school runners and their coaches in Everett, Washington, US, in 2005. Here are my remarks,
edited for print.
Billy Mills Introduction
Everett, WA, Civic
March 7, 2005
Every Olympics has an image – a snapshot – a moment seared
in our minds forever – that one iconic moment that captures the spirit of that
Voice of AmericaNews.com
The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were a games of favorites and of the
Al Oerter won his third consecutive gold medal in the
discus, while Betty Cuthbert, Australia’s darling of the ’56 Melbourne Games,
returned to claim her fourth gold.
Peter Snell won his second 800m title and added the 1500m
crown. Bob Hayes tied the world record in the 100m and anchored the U.S. 4x100m
relay to victory with a split of 8.9 seconds.
Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila wore shoes this time as he strode to
his second consecutive marathon victory.
Yet for all these outstanding accomplishments, the lasting
image of the ’64 Olympics is none of these.
Billy Mills, a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, was born and
raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation in
South Dakota. Although Pine Ridge is very rich in culture and spirit, it has
long been recognized as one of the poorest communities in America with
unemployment reaching 80%.
Yet it was here that a future Olympic champion and Olympic
and world record holder took his first steps towards greatness.
Mills was orphaned by the age of twelve and was sent to
boarding schools. He graduated from Haskell Indian School, where he was such a
prominent and successful runner that he earned an athletic scholarship to the
University of Kansas.
While he didn’t win a major collegiate race in track or
cross country, he earned All-America honors seven times.
Upon graduating from Kansas, Mr. Mills received his
commission as an officer in the United States Marine Corps and continued his training.
As second qualifier on his own Olympic team, and with a
personal best almost a minute behind that of the favorite, Australian world
record holder Ron Clarke, he arrived in Tokyo well under the radar screen.
In spite of the absence of major championships on his
resume, he had trained since he was twelve with a focus and determination with
only one goal in mind: an Olympic gold medal.
The world was about to see the greatest upset in Olympic
history. Yet Tokyo was much more than an upset: it was an accomplishment and an
achievement never yet matched by a U.S. man or woman.
Today, Mr. Mills is an accomplished businessman, author, and
national spokesperson for Running Strong for American Indian Youth (http://indianyouth.org), a division of
Christian Relief Services.
In this role, he has helped raise over 500 million dollars
in cash and in-kind gifts for charities worldwide, and through the Running
Strong Foundation has raised over $75,000,000 for the Pine Ridge Reservation.
He has received five honorary doctorates, is a member of
five Halls of Fame, and is the recipient of the highest honor the University of
Kansas Alumni Association can bestow: the Distinguished Service Citation, which
acknowledges outstanding achievement for the betterment of humankind (and in
2012 was honored by President Obama with the Presidential Citizens Medal for
While many discussions of Mr. Mills’ running achievements
seem to end with Tokyo, it’s important to note that the following year, while
winning our national championships with a dramatic lean at the tape over his
Tokyo roommate, Gerry Lindgren, he set a world record for six miles of 27:11.6.
A major motion picture has been made about Billy Mills
titled “Running Brave”, and it has been a very positive and inspirational
influence on American youth.
I am old enough to have been inspired before the movie. As a
kid of twelve in 1964, I watched, transfixed, the dramatic race from Tokyo.
Twelve - an age when the sports heroes of one’s youth are
defined, and when wanting to grow up to be like them becomes part and parcel of
the fiber of one’s youthful dreams and daily inspiration.
I’ll leave the telling of the tale to Mr. Mills, as well as
to the video you’re about to see, but I’ve long thought his stunning upset was
best summed up by the official who came up to him afterwards and asked: “Who are you?”
To give our many young runners in the audience some context
of the nature of his upset, suffice it to say that he set a personal record by
nearly 2 seconds per lap for the 25
We’ll see this evening that Billy Mills’ life is about far
more than one moment of greatness; it’s about what he’s done with the platform
which that moment of greatness provided him - or, to put it far more
accurately, which he provided for himself.
Greatness, with Billy Mills, is a lifelong experience.
Before we hear from our distinguished guest, we will play a
short video of his Olympic 10,000m triumph to recapture this dramatic moment.
Look for the two incidents of interference on the last lap,
look for the finest 30m kick in 10k history, look to see what lane he finishes
in, and most of all, look at his face.
Look at his face to see what happens when you are Running
Strong, Running Brave, and running with unfettered joy.
Look for Billy Mills; the number on his singlet is 722:
(I adlibbed: “no matter what your
coach may tell you” – much to the delight of the thousand high school runners
in the audience. Mills enjoyed the comment and came to the stage with a
huge smile on his face.)
Let’s Welcome Billy Mills!
Three videos, with notes
The first (above, in the introduction) is the classic black
and white version from the television broadcast, with announcer Dick Bank’s
famous near-hysterical call; it shows particularly well how badly Mills was
thrown off stride by Clarke’s push on the last lap (Runner Vision.com):
A color version complete with its own dramatic music; much
higher resolution than the first video. Stay with this one to the very end to
see Mills’ famous questioning gesture to an official immediately after the
What follows is from a Billy Mills interview posted at WBUR.org,
Here and Now, Robin Young interviewer
(transcribed directly from the audio interview, with one difference here from
what is printed on the WBUR website).
Of Mills’ many memorable quotes, this one I carry closest,
heartbreaking as it is. This is Mills’ father to eight-year-old Billy after his mother
As I mourned my mother, my dad
told me I had broken wings.
“I’m going to share something
with you and if you follow it, someday, someday you may have wings of an eagle.”
He told me to look beyond the hurt,
the hate, the jealousy, self-pity.
All of those emotions destroy
“Look deeper and way down deeper
where the dreams lie.
You’ve got to find a dream son.
It’s the pursuit of a dream that
will heal broken souls.”