A new episode of Midco Sports Magazine debuts on Tuesday, November 4. One of the stories this month marks the 50th anniversary of Billy Mills' victory at the Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan, in 1964. Here is a transcript of the video piece.
Billy Mills grew up in a time and place that did not exactly foster and fuel the dreams of young Native Americans. As a kid on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the 1940s he saw the worst of what the world could be.
“It was more racial poverty. I have gone into restaurants as a child in the state of South Dakota with my dad… waiting 45 to 50 minutes before we were served. I’ve gone in where they wouldn’t serve us. I’ve gone in where you are harassed. And that was not South Dakota… that was America.”
So how does a young man with so many odds and obstacles stacked up against him go on to pull off one of the greatest Olympic moments of the 20th century?
It comes down to spirit and survival and strength.
Mills is a member of every Hall of Fame you can think of and he has earned every award you can imagine.
But none of that, of course, was even a thought to him 50 years ago. In fact, to understand and appreciate his victory you have to go back even further… to his childhood days in Pine Ridge and his connection to his father… and how words about wings would come back to him all those years later on the track in Tokyo.
“There were two races. One race, I was trying to heal a broken soul. My dad told me I had broken wings. You do these things, son, and someday you will have the wings of an eagle.”
Even after that early encounter and encouragement as a young boy, Mills would struggle, with the world and with himself. Most notably were episodes as a college student in the late 1950s at the University of Kansas when he contemplated ending it all by jumping from a fourth story window.
“I was not able to join a fraternity. They said, ‘You cannot join. You are Indian. There is nothing you can contribute.‘ And that was not the University of Kansas… that was America. And it challenged me, broke me. I know what it feels like to be broken. I came so close to suicide, only to hear my dad’s words. Not through my ears, but energy underneath my skin… movement… that spoke, Don’t… Don’t. The fourth time, just gentle and very loving and caring… Don’t… Don’t. And I am crying and I get off the chair and I remember him telling me… you need a dream to heal a broken soul… and I wrote down my dream instead of jumping. I made a choice. I wrote: Gold Medal, 10-thousand meter run.”
Mills tells a story about a race he ran a year before the Tokyo games, in Belgium in 1963. He meets a competitor who, like Mills father, would change Mills’ life with some simple words.
“80 meters to go, one runner goes by me and boom… blows us all away and wins the race. Mohammed Gammoudi from Tunisia. We go for a run the next day and he says, ‘More speed, Billy… More speed.’ So I practice speed for a year. And when I won in Tokyo, he said, ‘Billy, too much speed.’”
Too much speed, indeed.
Tokyo Games, 1964… the ten thousand meters, a race never before won by an American male.
With one lap to go, Mills takes the lead going past world record holder Ron Clarke.
Clarke pushes Mills to the outside. Mills recovers.
His friend, Mohammed Gammoudi, surges to the front with Clarke just behind him. Mills keeps them within reach.
And then one final try coming off the curve.
“They are 8, 9, 10, maybe 12 yards in front of me… 120 meters to go. Now. To make up 12 yards in 120 meters is a lot. Now. I’ve got to go now. Lifting my knees… pumping my arms. Gammoudi is in lane two. Clarke is in lane three. Lapped runners are in lane one. I am in lane four. A lapped runner that they go by tucks himself in behind them and starts to come across the track. He is in front of me. Momentarily, I panic. He moves into lane five. Lane four is open.”
This is the point in the famous video where TV analyst Dick Bank yells, “Look at Mills! Look at Mills!”
“Thirty meters to go.” Mills continues. “I may never be this close again. I’ve got to do it now. Wings of an eagle. I won, I won, I won.”
Mills wins in a time of 28 minutes, 24.4 seconds. It sets a new Olympic record and is the first time he has finished the 10K in under 29 minutes.
His friend, Gammoudi, is not at all displeased with finishing second.
“Nadia, his daughter said… ‘My daddy is in first place. Clarke is beginning to fade. Lane one is open. My daddy looks. No Billy. My daddy told me you are an American Indian, and you were like an arrow shot out of a bow, and boom… you go by my daddy and you won. And he was so happy for you!’ And I said why? I beat him! And she said, ‘No, you didn’t beat him, you won. And the manner in which you won was so electrifying… it could only be a gift.”
And Mills has shared that gift for the last 50 years… with everyone, everywhere.
“It’s been a global experience travelling to 108 countries and realizing what I took from sport. That it is the journey, not the destination that empowers us. It is the daily decisions that we make in life, not just the talent we possess, that choreographs our destiny. An overpowering, true sense of global unity. Through the character, dignity and beauty of global diversity. Far more important than sport. Far more important than the Olympics. It is the future of humankind.”