Monday, March 19, 2007

bowerman and the men of oregon

He closed great, calloused hands around my throat. He did not lift me off the ground. He did relieve my feet of much of their burden. He brought my forehead to his. "I'm going to ask you to take part in an experiment," he said with menacing calm. People five yards away thought we were sharing a tidbit of gossip. "For three weeks, you are not going to run a yard except in my sight. You will do a three-mile jog here every morning, and our regular afternoon workouts. If I or any of my spies sees you trotting another step, you will never run for the University of Oregon again."
"Are we agreed?"
"Agreed?"As I was feeling faint, I submitted.

And so starts Kenny Moore's recount of the life of famed Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman.
Bowerman is a legend among track fans, having coached the University of Oregon for 24 years, winning the NCAA four times, coaching several Olympians, and being the US Head Coach in the Munich Olympics in 1972.
His most famous athlete was Steve Prefontaine, who died prematurely in a car accident in 1975, and whose life made to the big screen not only in one, but in two movies, "Without Limits" and "Prefontaine". Bowerman's character is played respectively by Donald Suthlerland and R. Lee Ermey in those movies. See "Without Limits" trailer on YouTube here.But Bowerman went on to be much more than a track coach. He went on to shape part of our lifestyle and our culture.
In the early '60s, after witnessing the work of another legendary coach, Arthur Lydiard, in New Zealand, he wrote a booklet about the positive effects of long-distance running for the average person. The book was entitled "Jogging". It went on to sell more than 1 million copies and helped ignite the running boom.
He was obsessed with improving the shoes his athletes used for running, and made many experiments in his garage workshop. The story about how he put foam rubber on his wife's waffle iron is already stuff of legend. The "waffle" sole and his association with Phil Knight, another one of his former athletes, gave birth to Nike. He stayed on Nike's Board of Directors until June 1999, a few months before he passed away on Christmas Eve that year. He is held in such stature at Nike that the eleventh of the company's "11 sacred rules" is simply, "Remember the man".
All these fascinating events are narrated by Kenny Moore. Moore, a former University of Oregon athlete himself, running under Bowerman, was one of America's best marathoners, having competed in two Olympics, his best result being a fourth place finish, in Munich, behind teammate Frank Shorter's gold. When his athletic career was over, Moore became one of the best sports writers in America. He was a senior writer for "Sports Illustrated", where he worked for 25 years. He also co-wrote the script for the movie "Without Limits" (he even plays a part in the movie).
Moore therefore writes about Bowerman with the reverence and love of a disciple writing about his master. His firsthand account of the stories, many in which he was an actor himself, such as in the opening paragraph above, gives an invaluable insight into the man behind the legend.
My own copy came with a few initial pages roughly cut (see photo below). I almost returned the book right away, but then I noticed Phil Knight's foreword was missing. Found out that because of a last-minute legal tangle between Knight and Rodale, Rodale decided to go ahead without Knight's foreword. However the first edition was already printed. Somebody at Rodale must've spent many long hours cutting those pages from the thousands of books already printed. Knight later published his foreword in the May/2006 issue of Playboy magazine. You can read it here. I decided to keep the book. And I don't regret it a bit.

"Bowerman and the Men of Oregon: The Story of Oregon's Legendary Coach and Nike's Co-Founder", available at

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