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As we prepare for next year’s Olympic Games and Billy Mills’ return to Tokyo, where it all began, we are excited to introduce a new series, Road to Tokyo. Each month until the Games begin, Billy will share never-before-heard stories from his time at and leading up to the Olympics in 1964.
The International Military Sports Council
Looking back, it was late June 1963. I was a young Marine 2nd Lt. and had just graduated from Basic School at Quantico, VA. Patricia was working at a bank in Quantico. Our daughter Christy was 2 months old. I gave them both a kiss and a big hug, and then boarded the bus that would take the Quantico Marines track and field team to the West Point campus in New York.
The track and field athletes from the various branches of the USA Military were gathering there, trying to make the All-USA Military Track & Field team to compete in the World Military Track & Field Championships called CISM – International Military Sports Council. CISM was born out of the desire for the armed forces of several countries to meet in sports arenas instead of battlegrounds and did not officially become the World Military Championships until 1995. This is what we were all preparing for.
At West Point, I qualified and would be competing in either the 5,000 meters or 10,000 meters at CISM in late August, 1963. I was thrilled to be representing the Marines, the United States of America, and the Oglala Lakota Nation.
As I waited to learn if I would race the 5,000 or 10,000 meters, my heart smiled as my mind floated back in time…
Lost in a Memory
[Grandpa Ben Mills’ home in Porcupine, SD where I spent many days during my younger years.]
I was with my cousin Butch Eagle Bull, sitting on the steps of my home on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Butch and I were 12 years old. My father had died two months earlier. Although we sat side by side, our arms slightly touching, we were both quiet and I felt all alone.
Then he said, ”Billy, you will probably do something famous in sports.” Now, Butch was by far the better athlete. He was stronger, faster, and more coordinated than me. I asked him why he was making fun of me. He said, “No, I’m not doing that. I read a lot of books about athletes and all the athletes I read about are either poor, orphaned, or people make fun of them; and Billy, all three of those things happened to you!” We looked at each other; we smiled and got up to play.
A Devastating Blow
My mind raced back to the present when I heard the coach say, “Billy, I need to talk to you.” My heart was pounding. I had dreamed of running the 10K at the Olympic Games. Perhaps me recalling my cousin’s words was my dream being nurtured. I was going to find out if I would run the 5K or the 10K at the CISM meet. It didn’t matter, I would be on my way to Brussels, Belgium, and that would lead me down the road to Tokyo… Or so I thought.
The coach spoke the words slowly but firmly – “Billy, you are not on the team to compete at CISM.” In a whisper I said, “But why?” I qualified.” He informed me that Max Truex from the Air Force and Alex Breckenridge, a US Marine, both 1960 Olympians, would run the 5K and 10K at the World Military Championships.
This was much more devastating to me than when I made 1st Team Collegiate Cross Country All American and was asked to get out of the photo by one of the photographers.
As I struggled with what to say, Max walked in. He had heard the conversation and said he was only running the 5K. He continued, “Billy qualified, he should run the 10K with Alex in Brussels.
The coach relented. I was on the team! I was headed to the biggest track meet of my young career.
“Billy, all you need is more speed.”
One month later at the CISM, before the 10K race, I met a young 10K competitor named Mohamed Gammoudi from Tunisia. Despite the language barrier we connected and enjoyed each other’s company.
The runners were introduced and the race was underway. With 500 meters to go, there were only four of us in the lead pack. I sprinted to the front. 150 meters to go. A runner edged past me. I was holding on to second place and then, like a bolt of lightning, Mohamed sprinted past both of us and won the race with true dominance! His finishing kick was so intimidating.
After the race, I spent some more time with Mohamed. He said, “Billy, all you need is more speed.” I promised myself that I would incorporate speed strength and pure speed workouts into my training. As we parted, I felt as if I was leaving an old friend. Would we ever see each other again? Perhaps next year in Tokyo, I wished.
What little did I know! See you next month!
-Billy Mills (Oglala Lakota)
National Spokesperson and co-founder