Watch highlights of one of the most incredible stories in Olympic history as the USA’s Billy Mills wins the 10,000m gold as a complete unknown underdog at the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games.

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The story of the 10,000m at the Tokyo 1964 Games is the story of one of the greatest upsets ever seen at the Olympics. The race had been predicted to be a three-way battle between Murray Halbert, the defending 5000m champion, the defending 10,000m champion Pyotr Bolotnikov, and the world record holder Ron Clarke. It did not go according to plan.

By the halfway mark, though, only Clarke was anywhere near the front, accompanied by Tunisian Mohamed Gammoudi and the American Billy Mills.

Mills was so unheralded that, in the run-up to the Games, not one reporter had asked him a single question. They should have done, for his story was memorable.

He had been born in South Dakota as a member of a Native American family, and was raised on a reservation reserved for the Oglala Sioux people. He had 11 brothers and sisters, but was orphaned at the age of 12, and so was raised by his grandmother.

He took up boxing and used to run as a way of staying fit, but discovered he was a better runner than boxer, and so won a place at the University of Kansas on an athletic scholarship.
He excelled at cross-country while at university but, by the time of the Olympic Games, he had left Kansas to join the US Marine Corps. It was while serving in the armed forces that he qualified for the Games.

His qualifying time was not notable, but he had spent years planning for the final and had belief that, on the day, he would match the standard of those around him.

The race was more about endurance, tactics and even fortune than out-and-out pace. The last lap was a confusing affair, with slower runners being lapped as Clarke, Gammoudi and Mills charged along, elbowing and shoving each other as they jockeyed for position. Clarke led, then Gammoudi and then, to the astonishment of both the frontrunners, Mills sprinted past to win by almost three metres, beating his own personal best time by 47 seconds.

“I’m flabbergasted,” said Mills in victory. Famously, a Japanese reporter asked simply “who are you?”

Victory changed his life. He was acclaimed by his tribe as a warrior and given the name Makoce Teh’la, which translates as “loves his country”. He has devoted much of his life to working with Native American communities and remains the first and, so far, only American to win Olympic 10,000m gold.

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Author Since: Sep 20, 2018

  1. gives me chills whenever i see it. i had to laugh at the video. at the start, the announcer says "this is billy mills. no one expects him to win the race". and after the race is over he refers to him "as the great billy mills" – LOL

  2. Mr.Mills please let me enlighten you if you should review and read this! Just wanted you to know you are a Hero and inspiration! I have been trying to get a hold of you at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS the home of the Jayhawks, and your Alma Mater. The athletic department never responded to an E-mail I submitted 21/2 years ago. My family background is very similar with a difficult childhood as well. Your Lakota roots are amazing coming from one of the most improvised regions in the United States, being a Marine Officer, graduating with a B.S. in physical education, and an Olympic Champion with a Gold Medal are a few of your accomplishments. I would like to receive your signature for my athletic runners from the High School I have coached as a Mentor/Volunteer for multiple years here in Colorado. I will submit concrete proof if you desire. You are still admired 54 years later! Yours In Running, United States Armed Forces(Two-Honorable Discharges) M.S., double B.A., Former Professional & World Class Athlete, Business Owner and Employer,and Justice Network National Legal Representative. P.S. ** I was an Orphan like yourself for 13 years, and thrown into five foster homes from age 13 years to 15 years old because my Mother and Father were disabled and handicapped. *

  3. Billy was not even the number #1 10k runner in the United States,that honor was Gerry Lindgren,who you can see in the beginning of the clip,running along beside Mills,Lindgren was a high school student at the time

  4. I watched Billy Mills win the Olympic title and as a 10 year old went out and ran 6 miles the next day,he became my inspiration and I eventually made the USA Olympic Trials. The top 3 qualify but I was not fortunate to be that good,but will always hold Mr. Mills in the highest regard as running lead me to a lifetime of fullfilment and joy

  5. Why everyone talks about only Billy. Greater srilankan runner who participated on the same run did complete his 10k meters when everyone else's has drop half way. Entire stadium took him as a joker who still runs alone even after the winners were declared. In his final lap entire stadium stood up and cheers him for his currage to finish the race. When questioned by Japanese reporter, He said I cam here to run 10,000 meters and not less than that no matter what the situation is. His determination story has entered into Japanese school text book in grade 5. He is a Hero unfortunately died at young age. A legend who created such a legacy.

  6. Hourray for Native Americans. Theirs is a history of terrible suffering, it's too late to rectify the slaughter and past mistreatment but it's not too late to give proper respect and some form of decent compensation and justice to the descendants.

  7. This was the race where Ranatunge Karunananda of Sri Lanka ran 4 laps alone to finish the race as the last. History has it that he was jeered at initially when he continued to finish the race alone, even after all others have either finished or given up. But Karunananda persisted and continued to finish all the laps eventually to receive a standing ovation from the same spectators for his sheer determination to finish the race. This is one of the rare magical moments of Sri Lankan Olympic history. 🙂

    "The Olympic spirit is not to win, but to take part. So I came here. I took part in the 10,000 metres and completed my rounds." –
    Ranatunge Karunananda