SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The International Olympic Committee is still planning on holding the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
They were delayed last year due to the global pandemic and there’s been a lot of debate whether they should move forward this year too.
Billy Mills, a young Native American from Pine Ridge, was in third place in the final lap of the 10 thousand meter run at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.
But he wouldn’t stay there long.
Billy Mills shocked the world when he pulled off an upset that’s still called one of the greatest moments in Olympic history for the United States.
KELOLAND News recently caught up with Billy Mills at his home in Sacramento, California. He’ll turn 83 this summer.
Don: Obviously thinking back to 1964 and your 10,000 meter run, obviously you remember that, but what stands out to you?
Billy: The standout was actually accomplishing what I set out to do. “
He told me winning the race was two-fold.
“Come off the final curve my thoughts were I’m going to win, but I may not get to the finish line first so I contradicted myself then I realized the first goal was to heal a broken soul and I was utilizing sport as the catalyst, so my next thought was I’m going to try to get to the tape first, I’m going to try to win the race,” Mills said.
Mills told me that his broken soul was from his upbringing. He grew up in poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation and even contemplated suicide at one point.
But he used running as a way to channel his energy into something positive.
His dad told him once, if you want to mend broken wings, you need to dream.
“So I got off the chair, junior in college and I wrote down a dream; gold medal, Olympics, 10 thousand meter run,” Mills said.
Mills says he won two races that day in Tokyo.
“When I broke the tape I realized the first and most important race was I healed a broken soul and in the process I became a gold medalist,” Mills said.
A year after winning the gold, Mills spoke with KELOLAND Sports.
“I know that Tokyo victory was one of your great thrills and everybody in the land is happy over that achievement and we wish you much success and hope you can compete in the Olympics in Mexico City in 1968, thank you my happiness is realizing how many people are happy for me thank you very much, Bill Mills,” Burt said.
Now, here we are 57 years later and the Olympics are going to be held, once again, in Tokyo.
“I think we have to be very very cautious, I think there’s a pandemic, a global pandemic that if not controlled could truly kill, think we have close to 7 and a half billion on the planet, I think we could lose a billion to a billion and a half people if we don’t come together to address COVID-19 and the variants that come from it,” Mills said.
Mills was supposed to attend the Olympics last year in Tokyo and serve on a panel to answer questions about the games, that was until covid hit.
While the IOC is moving forward with the games this summer, Mills still has concerns about safety.
“I think that has to be a priority if the Japanese leadership think they could put on the games in a safe manner then I’m in total support of it, but I tend to listen to the majority of the people in Japan and they still have incredible concerns,” Mills said.
Mills says winning the gold changed his life forever.
It gave him the platform to do good things, like his non-profit; Running Strong for American Indian Youth.
“When President Obama gave me the President’s medal and when the Anti-Defamation League presented me with the highest honor they give to somebody who addresses racism, I cried, I felt my wife and I were making a difference,” Mills said.
But he says it wasn’t just that or his gold medal. Mills says it was his entire journey and how he got there and that’s his message for today’s young athletes.
“I think there are some phenomenal athletes I think today’s athletes, or I’ll say sport, properly taught can better prepare our young people for the challenges they’ll face later in life than just about anything they can do,” Mills said.
Mills says following his victory in Tokyo, he never got to take a victory lap because some runners were still on the track completing the race.
But he went back to Olympic Stadium in Tokyo 20 years later and took his victory lap with his wife, Pat, sitting in the stands clapping.
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