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Me between 1964 Tokyo Olympians, Billy Mills and Andras Toro

One of the biggest sports stories of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was the come-from-behind sprint by Billy Mills to win the 10,000 meter finals.

For nearly two years, I’ve been hoping to meet the man. And last week, I met Billy Mills!

Thanks to fellow ’64 Olympian, Andras Toro, I enjoyed a couple of hours with Mills and his wife Pat. There’s so much to write about, but let me tell this story first.

On September 7, 2013, the International Olympic Committee gathered in Buenos Aires, Argentina to vote on the final three contenders to hose the 2020 Summer Olympics. The three cities up for selection were Istanbul, Turkey, Madrid, Spain and Tokyo, Japan.

A few months prior to the vote, Billy Mills and Pat Mills thought they could not remain silent, that Japan had a special place in their heart, and that if anyone could pull off a great Olympics, it was Japan. They very quickly produced a 1-minute video explaining why Japan should host the 2020 Games. They were not asked to do so, but based on phone calls he received from Japanese government and Tokyo2020 officials, Mills’ endorsement was a tremendous boost of confidence. It may have even played a role in the decision making.

Here’s the video – a rousing endorsement of Tokyo, Japan – from one of the brightest stars of the first Olympics held in Japan.

 

Of the three cities today that are bidding to host the 2020 Olympic Games, they’re all enchanting, they’re magical. They all could host a very successful Olympic Games. However when you consider the world today, there’s only one city that could truly capture the full potential and the spirit that the Olympic Games has to offer to the world. And that’s Tokyo. My vote? Tokyo, Japan 2020.

Billy Mills on Ive Got a Secret
Lt Billy Mills of the US Marines and his winning smile on I’ve Got a Secret.

Five months after the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964, four lieutenants from four different branches of the US Military came together as anonymous guests on the game show, “I’ve Got a Secret”. The popular program that broadcasted on American network CBS from 1952 to 1967 in black and white was the less formal, loosey-goosey version of another very popular game show, “What’s My Line?” (See this link for my post on 5-gold-medalist Don Schollander appearing on that program.)

I've Got a Secret

Steve Allen was hosting that show on March 8, 1965, and guest celebrities asked questions to guess what the secret was, ie: who the heck these four military men did. And the guest celebrities – Jayne Meadows, Gary Morton, Betsy Palmer and Henry Morgan – did not have a clue, although they did tend to get, I believe, a bit racy in their questioning.

The four military men were:

  1. First Lt Lones Wigger of the Army who had set a world record in the small-bore rifle, 22-caliber, three position event at the Asaka Shooting Range in Tokorozawa, Saitama
  2. Lt William Stowe of the Navy and
  3. First Lt Joe Amlong of the Air Force who were two members of the US 8-oar rowing crew which beat heavy favorite Germany on the Toda Rowing Course in Saitama
  4. Lt Billy Mills of the Marines, the first American to win the 10000 meters in the Olympics

Here are the four American Military gold medalists in this 7-minute segment from “I’ve Got a Secret”.

Billy Mills Crossing the finish line, from the boo,
Billy Mills Crossing the finish line, from the boo, “Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News” Agency

At every Olympics, there are people who stand out brighter than others. In 1964, everybody had a Billy Mills story. The legendary Native American champion of the 10,000 meter race, Mills was not expected to medal in Tokyo, and thus appeared to come out of nowhere to win one of the most dramatic races in Tokyo.

Silver medalist  3-meter springboard diver, Frank Gorman, remembers sitting in the Olympic Village common area watching the Olympic Games on TV. “He was a guy I didn’t know until I got to Tokyo. In between our work outs we would sit and watch the games on the local TV, just the two of us. I understood that he was training hard, and that nobody thought he had a prayer, nobody was putting any money on him. But he told me he was excited about being there, and that he had been working his whole life at being the best.”

Gold medalist 400-meer runner, Ulis Williams, watched Mills in the stadium. “Towards the end, I think the last 200 meters, we see him picking up speed. We couldn’t believe it, and we’re shouting ‘Look at him go!’ He tried to go around a guy, and they were moving to block him, but he burst through the center with his arms up. We absolutely couldn’t believe it.”

Billy Mills (middle) and Ron Clarke (right) in 10000 meter run, from the book,
Billy Mills and Ron Clarke in 10000 meter run, from the book, “The Olympic Century – XVIII Olympiad – Volume 16”

For gymnast, Makoto Sakamoto, he remembers watching the 10,000 meter race on a black and white TV in a common room. “I remember it’s the final lap. A bunch of us, 30 of us, we were just yelling our heads off! And he wins the thing. What a dramatic finish! Mills comes out of nowhere and wins!”

Peter Snell remembers agreeing with his teammates that Australian Ron Clarke was a definite favorite to win, and had no expectations for any American, let alone Billy Mills to be in the running. As he wrote in his biography, No Bugles, No Drums, “This is no personal reflection on the tremendous performance of the winner Billy Mills. It’s just that Americans are traditional masters of the short track events and we other nations are naturally not too keen to see that mastery extended to the longer races.”

Snell, the incredible middle-distance runner from New Zealand, who won gold in both the 800 and1500 meters races in Tokyo wrote that “the 10,000 lives in my memory as one of the most exciting