Saturday, July 31, 2010

Great Moments in American Sports - Billy Mills

Billy Mills was an American Indian of the Sioux tribe, born on June 30th, 1938, in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. He was orphaned at the age of 13. He took up running and boxing while attending the Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. He attended the University of Kansas on an Athletic scholarship and became an All American Cross Country runner three times and a member of two Outdoor Track National Championship teams. He was commissioned as an officer in the Marine Corps upon graduation from Kansas and was a First Lieutenant in the USMC Reserves when he ran in the 1964 Olympics.

In the 1964 Olympics he became the only U.S. runner to ever win the Gold Medal in the 10,000 meters run. It was one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history. Mills, who placed second in the U.S. Olympics trial was a virtual unknown and not considered to be a factor in the race for a medal. The favorite was an Australian named Ron Clarke, who held the world record. Mills' time in the preliminary race was a full minute behind Clarke's. As expected, Clarke set the early pace and at the halfway mark only five runners were still in contention. With two laps left, only Clarke, Mills and Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia were left. It seemed to be falling into place for the world record holder, Clarke. Gammoudi took the lead going into the final stretch and Clarke gave chase. Mills appeared to be out of it. Clarke could not catch Gammoudi, but Mills miraculously sprinted past both of them to win the race in Olympic record time and 50 seconds faster than he had ever run before. I've always thought that the mark of a true champion is to save your best performance for your most important game or race. That certainly applies to Billy Mills! Billy was inducted into the United States National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1976 and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 1984. He is the subject of the 1984 movie Running Brave starring Robbie Benson.

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