IN HISTORY: Billy Mills Wins 10K Olympic Race In Tokyo
Fifty-two years ago, Billy Mills charged across a rain-soaked track and set a new record pace for the Olympic 10,000 meter race in Tokyo, Japan. Not only did Mills set a new record, but he also became the first American to win gold for the race, and still holds the title today.
Billy Mills was born in 1936 in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Orphaned at a young age, Mills frequently recalls advice given to him by his late father, who told Mills he could “rise from broken wings and one day fly like an eagle.” Mills discovered his running ability in high school and was determined that the Olympic games are where he would soar.
Some credits Mills’ win to the heavy, soddened track. The 1964 Olympics was the last before all terrain tracks were utilized. A period of heavy rain had muddied the track, disabling many runners who were accustomed to ideal running conditions. During the final stretch of his race, Mills also made the decision to run on the outermost lane, which was not as sodden as the rest of the track.
Mills ran the 10K race in 28 minutes and 24 seconds, outpacing the previous record by over seven seconds. Only four other Americans have ranked highly in the 10,000 meter race: Max Truex who placed 6th in 1960, Frank Shorter who placed 5th in 1972 and Galen Rupp who placed 2nd in 2012.
Mills' win is a testament to the history of his Lakota heritage. As a member of this great warrior nation Mill's brought the vision of his people to his race and still carries it with him. The spirit of his culture can be found in the sacred Black Hills and Badlands region where Mills grew up and learned to run.