Mills (left) and Gammoudi at the 1964 Olympics
|Full name||William Mervin Mills|
June 30, 1938|
Pine Ridge, South Dakota, U.S.
University of Kansas
|Height||180 cm (5 ft 11 in)|
|Weight||68 kg (150 lb)|
|Club||U.S. Marine Corps|
|Achievements and titles|
5000 meters: 13:41.4|
10,000 meters: 28:17.6
William Mervin Mills (born June 30, 1938), also known as Makata Taka Hela, is a Sioux former track and field athlete who won a gold medal 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. A United States Marine, Billy Mills is a member of the Oglala Lakota 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." He was orphaned when he was twelve years old. 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 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.
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 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 screamed "Look at Mills! Look at Mills!" over the more sedate play-by-play announcer Bud Palmer, who seemed to miss what was unfolding. For bringing that drama to the coverage, Bank was fired.
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 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.
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. 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.
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.