Painting by Pat Mills

Billy Mills is proud of his wife Pat’s painting. “There’s so much information in it,” says Mills, the only American ever to win Olympic gold in the 10,000 meters race. “Ancestors, Olympic rings, Mount Olympus, Olympic columns, a dream catcher, me in a Lakota drum. The image she painted of me was after crossing the finish line at the 1964 Olympics and capturing the emotional moment of realizing what just happened.”

Billy Mills crosses the finish line in 10,000 meters race at 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

The painting capturing what happened almost 50 years ago was displayed at the National Museum of the American Indian, located right across Independence Avenue from our Voice of America headquarters in Washington, D.C. It’s part of “Best in the World: Native Athletes in the Olympics,” an exhibit that goes through September 3, 2012.

The 74-year-old Mills, a Lakota Indian, is also proud of his Native American heritage. Since his thrilling, come from behind victory in Tokyo, described as one of the greatest Olympic upsets, he has become the national spokesman for Running Strong for American Indian Youth, a non-profit group that works on behalf of American Indian children and families.

Mills says he travels much of the year, speaking to American Indian youth about healthy lifestyles and the power of positive thinking. He says in his training for the Tokyo Games, he visualized Olympic success “dozens of times a day.”

As we look forward to the London Games, there will surely be more Olympic athletes visualizing Olympic success, with some perhaps inspired by the gold medal-winning story of Billy Mills.