Billy Mills: Ex­cep­tional American track­ster

Manila Times - - SPORTS - BY ED­DIE G. ALINEA Billy Mills ( No. 722 far left) about to take the lead dur­ing the 10,000- me­ter event of the Tokyo Olympics. PHOTO FROM ED­DIE ALINEA’S FILE

IN one of the most ex­cit­ing fin­ishes in Olympic track and field his­tory, un­known American Mills and Tu­nisia’s Mo­hamed Gam­moudi both im­proved their per­sonal best times by more than 45 sec­onds in a mon­u­men­tal re­ver­sal of Aus­tralian world record holder Ron Clarke in the 10,000me­ter in 1964 in Tokyo.

After a see­saw­ing strug­gle, Mills dashed home past Gam­moudi and Clarke to the fin­ish and emerged vic­to­ri­ous by three yards. Mills, how­ever, was not al­lowed to com­plete the vic­tory lap owing to the many strug­glers breast­ing the tape one after an­other fol­low­ing him.

Twenty years later, cam­era­man Bud Greenspan brought Mills to Tokyo for a nos­tal­gic around the oval run rem­i­nis­cent of the Jessie Owens, who, like­wise, de­nied the honor dur­ing the 1936 Games in Ber­lin.

Mills wasn’t the best United States 10,000 run­ner who earned a ticket to Tokyo. Ferry Lind­gren, who beat Mills black and blue in the Olympic tri­als, was. Lind­gren, thus, be­came Amer­ica’s bright­est hope for a medal against a star-stud­ded field of in­ter­na­tional run­ners that in­cluded heavy-fa­vorite Clarke

Also tapped to win were Py­otr Bolot­nikov, win­ner of the 5,000-me­ter four years ago in Rome, and New Zealand’s Mur­ray Hal­berg, the 5,000meer king­pin in the same Games. Mills? Well, quite a few pre­dicted him to land no bet­ter than in the top 10.

“My strat­egy was sim­ply to go out there with the top four run­ners and stay in con­tact and hope for the best,” Mills re­called. “But when we reached the half­way mark, I was within one sec­ond of my fastest 5,000 me­ters ever and there was still 5,000 me­ters to go. I said to my­self, I’m go­ing to have to quit.”

Rather than quit, Mills started to sprint and took the lead. “I knew where my wife Pa­tri­cia was sit­ting in the stands and I hap­pened to glance up at the spot where she was, so if I quit, maybe she wouldn’t see me.”

“My thoughts were that she was cry­ing and not so much the fact that she knew I was ready to quit. To­gether we had made a com­mit­ment, we had a goal and I was pur­su­ing it, and there was re­ally no way that I could quit,” he said.

As they be­gan he last lap, Clarke bumped into Mills while try­ing to over­take. The American dropped to third from first. Gam­moudi took ad­van­tage and over­took, in­stead Mills and Clarke. It ap­peared to many the race was over in that sit­u­a­tion.

Not to Mills. “Some­thing in­side me was say­ing. ‘There’s still a chance.’ So I started driv­ing. There were fif­teen yards in front of me, but it seemed like 50 yards. Then I kept telling my­self, ‘I can win … I can win … I can win …. And the next thing I re­mem­ber I broke the tape.” The crowd turned hys­ter­i­cal. Billy Mills had ac­com­plished, per­haps, the great­est up­set in Olympic track and field his­tory and, in the process, be­com­ing the only American to ever win the 10,000-me­ter race.

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