Monday, September 17, 2012

A Brief Meeting with Billy Mills

Billy Mills Steve Gachupin
Old adversaries - Billy Mills and Steve Gachupin
Had the chance to meet and talk with Billy Mills this weekend. The guy is an American running icon primarily for his come-from-nowhere victory at the Tokyo Olympics back in 1964. Mills was the VIP guest at this weekend's Buffalo Thunder Half Marathon along with Jemez Pueblo's Steve Gachupin who was with us as well, and double Olympic Trials qualifier Alvina Begay who wasn't there because she was storming up Old Taos Highway with the rest of the race field.

As for meeting Mills, I mostly just wanted to shake the guy's hand and tell him that it was an honor to have him visit Santa Fe, but with Steve standing there I mentioned that the two of them had some history since they raced each other in the 1968 Olympic Marathon Trials in Alamosa. This was the correct thing to say and it started Mr. Mills off on a story about how he had run the Trials only to pace George Young to victory. Knowing that Young was from New Mexico I found this story more than a little compelling. Apparently it was Young's first marathon and he kept wanting to press the pace. As Mills tells it, he repeatedly advised George to hold back then sent him on his way at mile 20. George won the race and competed later that summer in Mexico City running 16th. Mills mailed in the rest of his Trials race, abandoning soon after 20mi, Gachupin claimed bragger's rights with a 15th place showing.

1968 Olympic Marathon Trials
1968 Marathon Trials - Gachupin at left, Kenny Moore of Oregon, George 
Young of Silver City (10), Billy Mills at right
Mills went on to say that he never ran another marathon, the distance was too grueling especially since he had a hypoglycemic condition that made things difficult. I noted that he had pretty good credentials for a guy that couldn't run a marathon, running to 14th place at the Tokyo Games in '64. He answered that it was just as grueling then even though he had been in the shape of his life, by his estimations he was in 3:56 mile shape at the time. He continued his story saying that there were no water stations along the route in Tokyo. Runners were allowed to set one bottle out on the course and his had only water in it. He had asked the other runners what he should be adding to his bottle (sugar, salt) and apparently they wouldn't give him the time of day, even the Americans. Not because of strategy or gamesmanship, but rather as Mills explained, because it was 'a different time'. Kinda like how the color of the Olympic medal Mills wore around his neck on the flight home was a bit 'different', I'd imagine. Golden rays of Olympic immortality different.

Here's some video of Mills wrecking dudes on a cinder track in Tokyo. Olympic and American record, a PR by 50 seconds, and the making of an American legend. 

Related Posts:
  - Buffalo Thunder Half Marathon, 2011
  - Buffalo Thunder Half Marathon, 2013

View Santa Fe to Buffalo Thunder Half Marathon in a larger map


  1. Bro, I hope you had the courtesy to give him a big "Rock Chalk!"

  2. I love the announcer- "LOOK AT MILLS! LOOK AT MILLS!"

  3. Bro - I did not give Mr. Mills a 'Rock Chalk'. No need to draw his attention to the fact that Charlie Weis is now coaching their football team. That's not going to end well.

    As for the announcing, I did a bit of sleuthing: If you watch the race again, you'll notice there is one guy doing the play-by-play. That was NBC's Bud Palmer. Palmer's call is somewhat dispassionate over the last 200m despite Mills' incredible move to the front. The other guy in the booth was Dick Bank, a huge track fan, who goes nuts and grabs the mic out of Palmer's hands and starts memorably shrieking Mills' name over and over. It's a very candid and authentic reaction to the sheer implausibility of the moment. Before the race nobody even knew the name Billy Mills. Banks' finishing call soon becomes inextricably linked to Mills' victory. Banks is fired by NBC for his unauthorized hijacking of Palmer's mic.

  4. Hmm...i thought the picture was of Robby Benson.

    Cool stuff...and good choice about the Rock Chalk as I thought he had a falling out with KU...or maybe that someone else.



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