KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Billy Mills was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, but he attended high school at the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, which is known now as Haskell Indians Nations University.
He was a Kansas State High School Activities Association state cross country champion before going on to star for the University of Kansas, earning All-American honors three times in cross country and helping the Jayhawks win NCAA outdoor track and field national championships in 1959 and 1960.
After enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps, Mills found immortality as the gold medalist in the men’s 10,000 meters at the 1964 Tokyo Games in an Olympic record time.
Mills also finished 14th in the marathon at the Olympics that year.
He went on to set the U.S. record in the 10,000 meters and three-mile run.
Mills and Gerry Lindgren shared the world record for the six-mile run after tying for first place during the 1965 AAU National Championships.
Mills never returned to Olympic competition, but he remains the only 10,000-meter gold medalist, men’s or women’s, in U.S. history.
During the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Mills was one of 11 selected for the honor of Olympic flag bearer.
He became an advocate for Native American people and a motivational speaker. The Lawrence School District named a middle school in Mills’ honor in 2018.
President Barack Obama bestowed the Presidential Citizens Medal on Mills in 2012 for his work with Running Strong for American Indian Youth, a nonprofit he co-founded to assist Native American communities.
The Kansas City region has a deep, rich history with respect to the Olympic Games. As the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games approach with the Opening Ceremony scheduled for July 23, we will profile an athlete with ties to Kansas City, Missouri or Kansas each day.
41 Action News and KSHB.com is your home of the Tokyo Olympics. Follow our coverage at kshb.com/sports/olympics.