"It's Clarke and Gammoudi, Clarke and Gammoudi," shouted the commentator as the runners whipped into the final lap. Everyone knew that couldn't last for long.

Moments later, destiny took its course.

"Here comes Mills!!!" the commentator screamed, and eyes jumped to the crewcut Marine wearing number 722, moving fast but still trailing in third place with less than 100 meters to go.

On the screen in front of American University's Ward 2 auditorium, but really under the gray October skies of Tokyo, Billy Mills of Pine Ridge Reservation, pride of the Oglala Sioux, once again sprinted past Australian world record holder Ron Clarke and Tunisian Mohammed Gammoudi to win the 1964 Olympic 10,000 meters.

A few minutes and "35 pounds" later, Billy Mills of the Billy Mills Leadership Institute talked to some 400 young Indian leaders, conferring at the university this week, about some less Olympian moments. Drawing constantly on anecdotes about fellow athletes who refused to give up when their hopes were dashed, prefacing story after story with the refrains, "You've been there," "You've experienced that," Mills paced about the stage in his brown pinstrip suit, microphone in hand, and worked at what he does best when not selling insurance in Sacramento -- instilling pride and ambition in Indian youth.

"Our ancestors didn't fail," he declared to the enthusiastic group, introducing a distinction that keys his approach to Indian youth. "They were defeated . But they were defeated with dignity."

And defeat, to Billy Mills, means only that the round has been lost. It doesn't mean quitting.

Mills recalled sitting on a bus in Olympic Village next to a Polish athlete who asked him which of two other participants in his race would win. "I'm going to win," Mills mustered the courage to tell her, even though everyone had discounted him as a longshot. Yesterday, as the only American evedr to win the gold in the 10,000 meters, Mills planted the memory in the minds of his audience.

"That's the choice we receive most of the time," he warned them. "A choice that does not include us." He urged them to set goals and not be deterred from them, to fight hard until they win, just as he did. "I grew up in that world where no one believed in you," explained Mills, who lost both parents by the age of 12.

Indian youth today, at least, have Billy Mills behind them. "I know you're going to win," he concluded emphatically, descending from the stage to a standing ovation.

On their fourth day in Washington, many of the Indians, chosen by their tribes for the National Indian Youth Leadership conference, split up to attend sports clinics on the AU campus or to relax from their hectic schedule of workshops and sightseeing. Most resisted attempts to divide and characterize the more than 300 tribal groups in this country, replying that Indians divide in as many ways as other people.

"Columbus came over here and mistakenly called us Indians," said Mark Trahant of Advocates for Indian Education, happily repeating a response given years ago to a Senate Committee. "Yet now it's up to us to define it."

Indians continue to battle stereotypes and discrimination on the private front as well as alleged governmental encroachment on the sovereignty of their lands. Out on the Yakima Reservation in Washington state, Burton Dick often faces visitors who expect tepees and are disappointed "that we live in houses like everyone else." He points tourists to what his tribesman call "Stereotype Wall," especially its picture of an "Indian warrior with a war bonnet and mean face." Dick tells them, referring to the widespread litigation over Indian lands, that most Indians prefer to be "briefcase warriors" these days.

The hardest images to fight, they say, come from television and the movies. All agree that too many Indian children grow up rooting for the cowboys. While some, like 19-year-old Kelly Britt of the University of Oklahoma, learned to laugh at Hollywood's Indians at an early age, many believe the portrayals contribute considerably to the poor self-image of many Indian youths. In spite of that, Indian vocabulary borrows from Hollywood. "Tonto" operates the way "Uncle Tom" does among blacks -- an epithet for someone who does what the white man tells him to do.

Indians also confront such images when they mix with whites. Although, as Indian leader Lonnie Racehorse stresses, phrases like "as long as the grass may grow" anchor much treaty-protected legal sovereignty for Indian tribes, many non-Indians expect Indians to talk only of the moon, sun, and Kemosabee. Descriptive names still flourish in some tribes -- Steve Mason of Elgin, Okla., says one youth at the conference has the last name "Lays On His Back When He's Lazy," -- but not everywhere. Out West, young women will be taunted as "squaw" or "Pocahontas," and young men as "chief."

"The big thing we're looking for is a positive self-image," says Racehorse of the conference's goal. That will take, for a start, more Indian teachers. oAt one table of eight conferees, only one Indian youth had faced an Indian teacher through high school. It will also take, Trahant says, a monitoring of popular culture -- as when Indians protested an airline promotion campaign that stressed how all people in this country come from other lands. And both added, more of those "briefcase warriors," to fight organizations that support the disbanding of Indian lands.

"They think we get a check from the government once a month and don't pay taxes," said Trahant, shaking his head, and launching into a discussion of Supreme Court decisions that have limited Indian sovereignty in what John Marshall called "dependent domestic nations."

"Treaties," Racehorse said, " are supposed to be second-highest to the Constitution, but . . . " His rolling eyes finished the sentence.

Gloomy sentiments from a people entitled to them. But Indians, like every other group, have a lot to laugh about, too. Chief among the laugh leaders may be Tonekei, a Kiowa television personality in Oklahoma who emceed last night's big pow-wow, which attracted hundreds of Indians and onlookers at the Washington Monument grounds. He's a regular Henny Young-Hawk.

The gentle melody of that old Crosby tune begins to filter out of the speakers. "I'm dreaming of a whi-i-te woman," crooned Tonekei to spasms of laughter from around the circle. "Born Free," he sang on, "in an In-di-an hospital."

Traditional Indian fried bread sold briskly near the stage. After Princess Pale Moon, who sang the national anthem at the Republican Convention, delivered an honor song from her repertoire, Indian princesses in buckskin dresses, beaded hair ties,otter furs, and feathered headbands led an all-invited "round dance." That's many people dancing as a big circle. A friendship dance.

War dances followed, mostly in Plains Inidan style. Hoofers from a variety of tribes participated, festooned with dyed-yellow eagle plumes, swan feathers, black buffalo headdresses, horsehair boots with bells and white warpaint. Later, they held what Indians call a "giveaway," a presentation of gifts. In this case the recipients of Inidan jewelry were the officials who organized the conference, among them Sandy McNabb, former Indian specialist with the Labor Department, and Ira Englander, president of the Institute for Career and Vocational Training, a conference co-sponsor.

Lonnie Racehorse watched most of it from the side of the stage. "Twenty years ago you didn't see women war dancers," he observed. Some things flow the same way in all lands, as Black Elk might have said.