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Sat January 4, 2014
Olympic Gold Medalist Billy Mills Honored By The NCAA
When it was learned that Tokyo was in the running to host the summer Olympics for 2020, Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills let it be known he was a supporter. Of course, Mills won his gold medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, so he may have been biased.
Mills, a member of the Ogalala Lakota Nation, remains the only American to win gold in the 10,000 meters track event, and it was one of those historic upsets for the record books.
It was a complete upset. Mills was an unknown, a U.S. Marine and a Native American. The 10,000 meter run is difficult, but experienced and recognized runners were vying for the top title in the world, with world record hold Ron Clark from Australia shoving Mills to the side.
But in a herculean effort, Mills came from behind and on the outside to win the race in the last few meters.
Announcers worldwide lost it, with NBC's Dick Bank screaming, “Look at Mills! Look at Mills!” With the words, “He won! He won!” Billy Mills went into Olympic history.
It’s been 50 years since his win in Tokyo.
“Well I've kept in touch with Mohammed Gammoudi, and of course Ron have kept in touch by our paths crossing on occasion,” Mills said. “Ron Clark, shortly after the race made a comment to the newspapers that every once in a while, someone runs as if they have wings on their feet.”
“I always felt that that moment was a gift to me,” Mills said.
“A year ago, in London, we had lunch with Mohammed Gammoudi, his wife and Mohammad Gammoudi's daughter, Nadia. She said, ‘My Dad wants me to tell you something Billy. My Daddy beat you one year before the Olympic Games and told you “more speed.” At the Olympic Games when you beat him, my Daddy said “too much speed” but my Daddy wants me to tell you this. He was so so happy when you won the gold medal in 1964.'”
"Why? I beat him?!" Mills said. “She said, 'No, no, you didn't beat my Daddy, you won. He tells it this way. Thirty meters to go, Ron Clark pushed you, you stumbled. He thought poor Billy, my friend Billy, he's out of the race but it’s my moment to strike. Billy's off balance, Clark's off balance and he had to slow down or squeeze between you. He tried to squeeze between you, pushing Clark and you.'”
“Daddy thought, poor Billy, he's out of the race. Thirty meters to go, my Daddy's in lane 2, in first place, Clark's in lane 3, and passed many runners in lane 1, now lane 1 is open. My Daddy's looked, thirty meters to go, no Billy. Ron Clark is trailing behind, the world record holder. My Daddy thought 'the race is mine.'”
“My Daddy told me you're an American Indian, and you were like an arrow being shot out of a bow...woooo! You go by my Daddy and you win and he was so happy. My Daddy said they way you won, it was so powerful, he knew that moment was yours, that was your moment.”
Mills, at 75, keeps a busy speaking schedule and works for his organization Running Strong For American Indian Youth. Due to a downhill skiing accident, Mills no longer runs, but he keeps active and through watching what he eats, he keeps his diabetes under control.
“I do what I have to, to lead the most quality lifestyle possible,” Mills said.
One year before the Olympic Games, Mills was diagnosed as hypoglycemic and border-line diabetic.
“There's no such thing as borderline diabetic so I'm hypoglycemic low blood sugar and I'm a type 2 diabetic. But most doctors tell me I'm not diabetic because of exercise, nutrition,” Mills said.
“Basically it’s in remission. But every day if I chose, I would know what to eat to be diabetic, but I'm in to a very quality lifestyle,” Mills said.
“I'm probably eating a minimum of 8-to-14 small helpings of vegetables and grains, an ounce or two of mixed nuts a day, of course the protein is easy to get,” Mills said.
“So I make sure I follow a nutritious diet, I do a lot of stretching and I do enough cardiovascular to maintain an anaerobic type exercise.”
This past year, Mills was honored first by President Obama with the Presidential Citizens Medal, then the NCAA named a room after him in their headquarters, an honor reserved for only the very elite coaches and athletes, and this month he will receive the highest award the NCAA gives, the Theodore Roosevelt Award.
“It made it an incredibly humbling 2013 and beginning of 2014 for me,” Mills said. “And all I was trying to do was take Native American cultures and values, extract out the virtues and the values that empower our culture, our tradition, our spirituality and transfer them to first, to an educational pursuit, and then an Olympic pursuit and then into a perpetual giveaway, a traditional giveaway with through the help of multitudes of compassionate people I've been able to orchestrate a very effective giveaway over the last 50 years.”
“I just very humbly tried to honor myself, so I could honor my tribe and to honoring my tribal nation, I could bring honor to America,” Mills said.
“And then to have this national recognition, it’s overwhelming.”
Billy Mills, a member of the Ogalala Lakota Nation and Olympic gold medalist, turned his gold into a lifetime of giving back.
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