He is 74 now, almost 50 summers from when he stunned the Tokyo Olympics by rocketing past the greatest 10,000-meter runners in the world in the final 100 meters for the gold medal — a performance ranked by Runner’s World magazine as the second-greatest Olympic moment.
“You still look fast,” President Obama quipped to a smiling Billy Mills when they met Friday morning.
I went to the White House partly to see Mills receive the nation’s second-highest civilian honor — the Presidential Citizens Medal. He was one of 18 honorees, including six Sandy Hook Elementary School teachers who gave their lives to protect their pupils, whose family members received their medals amid a room full of tears.
I went because I know Billy and what he has done for Running Strong for American Indian Youth, his foundation that for the past 26 years has drilled wells, donated coats to children, plowed grow-your-own farms and ran food-bank programs on his native Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota as well as in other parts of Indian country.
But mostly I went to the White House on Friday to see authentic human majesty — because there seems to be so little left in the athletes we now gullibly call our heroes.