Billy Mills (left) surprised the field with his epic win. (Official Marine Corps Photo # A411758, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

In  the lore of running, some races stand out as tremendously inspirational and epic. Think  Dave Wottle’s incredible come-from behind victory in the 800 at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

Here’s another great one. Sixty years ago this month, a runner from the Oglala Lakota tribe ran the 10,000 in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics against the best runners in the world. His name was Billy Mills  and to say he was an underdog is an understatement. Mills entered the race competing against such greats as (then) 10,000-meter world record holder Ron Clarke of Australia, Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia, Kokichi Tsuburaya of Japan, and Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia.

Clarke, no stranger to competition, controlled the race by surging every other lap in order to shake up the other runners.  The tactic worked, as halfway through the race, only four runners clung on to Clarke’s torrid pace: Wolde, Tsuburaya, Gammoudi, and Mills.

With 800 meters to go, only Gammoudi and Mills were in contention behind Clarke, whose 10,000-meter record of 28:15 far eclipsed their personal bests. Mills had never broken 29 minutes.

One lap to go…Okay, folks hold on to your hats. Mills pulled even with Clarke, while Gammoudi hung tough a step behind. All three had lapped the field at that point. As they entered the  backstretch, Clarke, the favorite, found himself boxed in. The Aussie shoved Mills several times to no avail. It was then that Gammoudi seized the moment, surging into the lead with a shove of his own as they rounded the final curve.

Clarke hung on, but at that point, it looked like Mills was too far back. Out of contention. Luckily, no one told him that.

Guided by some unseen force, Mills stepped into lane four and swept by both Gammoudi and Clarke, sprinting to victory to become the first American to win the Olympic 10,000 event. Gammoudi took second in 28:24.8, edging Clarke (28:25.8) by a step.

Mills’ time of 28:24.4 was nearly a minute faster than he had ever run. It remains one of the most inspirational distance races of all time, and Mills still steps up as a keynote speaker to inspire today’s youth. His message? Follow your dreams and never give up.

Upcoming races: Maudie’s Moonlight Margarita Run 5K starts at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5 at Auditorium Shores. The Luling Thumpin’ 5K is set for  Saturday, June 22 at 7:30 a.m.