Forgive me my obsession about running shoes, but I saw these on Facebook Tuesday and I felt it important to tell the story behind these battered Adidas. These shoes carried an American to Olympic glory 50 years ago.
On October 14, 1964 in Tokyo, Japan, Billy Mills became the first and only American to win the Olympic gold medal at 10,000 meters. Mills lived in my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas where he went to an Indian only high school called Haskell, after leaving his home on the Sioux reservation in South Dakota. Haskell is now a four year college and is still a school for Native Americans.
Mills went to the University of Kansas where he enjoyed a great deal of success, but nothing that would foretell the Olympic gold that would come his way after he graduated college and joined the U.S. Marines. Mills wasn't even considered the top American contenders at 10,000 meters in 1964. A rambunctious high school boy from Spokane, Washington, Gerry Lindgren, despite his youth, was considered a medal contender.
Lindgren sprained his ankle a short time before the Olympic final. Mills wasn't on anyones radar. He was so poorly thought of when he went to the Adidas representative to get some shoes they turned him down. Mills headed to the Puma representative who immediately agreed to give him shoes.
Back in 1964, when it came to running shoes, top track and field athletes had two choices, Adidas and Puma. The German shoe companies were owned by brothers who hated each other and were equally bitter rivals when it came to snagging athletes to run in their shoes. Asics, New Balance, Brooks, Mizuno and Saucony simply weren't players at the time and NIKE didn't even exist.
When Adidas got wind that Mills would be wearing Puma they relented and gave him a pair of their shoes which he wore to victory. During the medal ceremony Mills wore a pair of Puma's to acknowledge their help in getting him the shoes that he really wanted.
Those blue shoes bring back a lot of memories. I owned a pair of blue Adidas Tokyo's through high school that looked a lot like those famous spikes of Billy Mills. They were my favorite spikes to wear in cross country. I wish I still had them.
I've been lucky enough to meet Billy Mills on a couple of occasions. He's truly an inspiration. Go to YouTube and watch his 10,000. I dare you not to get goosebumps.