was born on June 30, 1938 in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. He is an
Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Indian and he was raised on the Pine Ridge
Indian Reservation. Billy's given Lakota name is Makata Taka Hela
which means "love your country" or more traditionally
translated, "respects the earth".
Billy grew up
in poverty and was orphaned at the age of 12. He turned to sports
as a positive focus in his life and took up running while attending
the Haskell Institute, an Indian boarding school in Lawrence, Kansas.
Billy discovered that he had a talent for distance running and he
broke a number of high school track records. In the late 1950s he
attended the University of Kansas on an athletic scholarship.
At the University
of Kansas Billy continued to improve as a distance runner. He was
named a NCAA All-America cross country runner three times and in
1960 he won the individual title in the Big Eight cross country
championship. The University of Kansas track team, coached by Bill
Easton, won the 1959 and 1960 outdoor national championships. Billy
graduated with a B.S. in physical education.
Billy was commissioned as a lieutenant in the United States Marine
Corps. He focused on military life and did not train for a brief
period, but soon he returned to running and posted times good enough
to qualify for the 1964 Olympics. After training for 18 months Billy
made the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team in the 10,000 meters
and the marathon.
Tokyo Olympic Games
had ever won the 10,000 meter race in an Olympics. Billy Mills'
qualifying time was almost a full minute slower than the favorite's,
Ron Clarke of Australia. The pre-race media coverage focused on
Clarke and his expected duel with Mohammad Gammoudi of Tunisia.
Billy went largely un-noticed. The field for 10,000 meter the final
included many Olympic gold medalists and world record holders.
A ticket from the day of the 10,000m final
From our favorite
book on running history, Fast Tracks - The History of Distance
Running by Raymond Krise and Bill Squires, comes this description
of the 1964 Olympic 10,000 Meter Final:
I knew he
was gonna win when I saw him. I could just feel it, like a thunderstorm
coming in August. Even on the other side of the world, I could
tell. He's a United States Marine.
It's our new
color set, and everybody looks kind of orange, but I can tell
they're moving fast. The guy announcing from Tokyo says 10,000
meters is a little over 6 miles! I can't run two blocks in gym
class. I ask Dad and and Grandpa how anybody can run for 6 miles,
let alone so fast, and they don't know either. Dad's a football
fan, and Grandpa's a baseball nut, and they only know about sprinting.
The TV guy
keeps saying it's very surprising to see Billy Mills doing so
well, right up there lap after lap with the Australian guy who
has a crewcut as short as Billy's and as much muscle in his shoulders,
too. There's a little tiny guy from Tunisia right behind these
two big guys, but everybody else that everybody thought would
do great before the race is pretty much out of it. The guy who
won it last time is 'way back, and so is the guy who won the 3
miler the same year. That guy Lindgren, who's only three years
older than I am and who beat the Commies in this same sort of
race this summer's got a sprained ankle and he's out of it too.
guy's name is Clarke; the announcer just said it, and I'll remember
it 'cause he looks like Clark Kent half-changed in Superman. He
looks like he eats barbed wire for lunch. He keeps trying to run
away from our guy, but Billy always catches up with him. Even
I know why, from junior varsity wrestling: Billy's got nothing
to lose. Clarke has everything to lose.
It's the last
lap and Dad's put down his Scotch and Grandpa's beer's getting
warm and these guys are running faster than before. Billy and
Clarke are shoulder-to-shoulder just ahead of the little Tunisian
guy whose name's Mohammed Something and now I'll remember it because
that's the name of his god or something. It just got like football,
and Dad's shouting! Mohammed just put his arms between Billy and
Clarke and shoved 'em both aside! They both almost fell. Geez,
they oughta slug that little bastard! They're both really mad,
and Clarke's right on Mohammed's heels but Billy's about 3 yards
back and there's only a turn and a straightaway to go.
DO IT! I KNEW IT! Lookit him go... Dad's screamin' like it was
Jimmy Brown about to score for Syracuse. HE GOT HIM! There's the
little thread, he's gonna do it, he's got his hands up in the
air and a big smile on his puss and he's got leg muscles the size
our Buick and the announcer says it's a new Olympic record and
no American's ever done anything like this before.
him now and his father was a Sioux Indian and he is a Marine lieutenant
and he has an Olympic gold medal for running 6 miles.
get any more American than that.
Billy set the
Olympic 10K record at 28:24.4, almost 50 seconds faster than his
previous best time. Mills also competed in the 1964 Olympic marathon
and placed 14th.
To date, no
other American has won a gold medal in the 10,000 meters.
In 1965 he set
U.S. records for the 10,000 meters and the three mile, and he set
a world record in the six mile run at the AAU championships.
his career in the U.S. Marine Corps as an officer assigned to the
Department of the Interior. He later became a successful life insurance
salesman, then switched careers to become a professional speaker.
Billy has served
on the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and was
named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Americans by the Jaycees
in 1972. He was selected as a 1990 Healthy American Fitness Leader
and was a recipient of the 1993 Distinguished Service Citation,
the highest award given by the University of Kansas and it's Alumni
He was inducted
into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 1984, and is a member
of the United States Track and Field Hall of Fame, the National
Distance Running Hall of Fame, the Kansas Hall of Fame, the San
Diego Hall of Fame, and the National High School Hall of Fame.
His life story
was made into the film, Running Brave, starring Robby Benson and
produced by Englander Productions in 1983.
remains active in Native American causes today. He uses his speaking
skills as an advocate for and a role model to young Native Americans.
He is the national spokesman for Running
Strong for American Indian Youth®,
a non-profit organization that help communities with self-sufficiency
programs, youth activities and cultural identity projects. As the
national spokesman for Christian Relief Services, he has helped
raise more than $212 million in contributions.
In 1991, Billy
wrote Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Understanding with
Nicholas Sparks, now in it's fourth printing. He and his wife Patricia
live in Sacramento, California, where Mills owns and operates Billy
Mills Speakers Bureau.