During his 24-year tenure as head track coach at the University of Oregon, William Jay “Bill” Bowerman’s athletes won four national team titles and 24 NCAA individual titles. Under Bowerman, Oregon had a winning season every year but one, and his “Men of Oregon” set 13 world and 22 American records. His teams also boasted 33 Olympians, 38 conference champions and 64 All-Americans. Bowerman, whose name literally means “builderman” in German, was the architect of one of track and field’s greatest dynasties.
Who better to tell his story than Sports Illustrated senior writer, two-time Olympic marathoner, and former University of Oregon track star Kenny Moore, who trained under Bowerman? Moore brings to the task the credentials of a veteran sports writer and an intimate knowledge of his subject. The result is a compelling story with depth and complexity.
Bowerman helped ignite the American jogging boom in the 60s after a trip to New Zealand to visit friend and coaching colleague Arthur Lydiard, invented the waffle-sole running shoe that established Nike, and coached the US track and field team at the tragic 1972 Munich Olympics—overshadowed by the death of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. As a coach, Bowerman was an early proponent of the hard/easy cycle of training, which defied popular opinion of the day that anything less than full exertion in every workout made athletes “soft.” Conventional wisdom has since come around to Bowerman’s way of thinking. He also handmade shoes for his Oregon runners, casting the rubber soles on a waffle iron purloined from his wife. A testament to his influential legacy, running has continued to explode in popularity in America since the publication of his manual Jogging in 1966 and Nike (the company he cofounded with Phil Knight, a miler coached by Bowerman at Oregon) is one of the world’s largest suppliers of athletic shoes and apparel with revenues in excess of $24 billion.
A modern Daedalus, Bowerman’s precious inventions proved the instrument of his demise. For decades, Bowerman labored on new shoe designs in unventilated quarters hand-assembling his shoes with rubber cement. The toxic fumes would cause permanent nerve damage. In June 1999, Bowerman stepped down from the Nike Board of Directors after 31 years. He died in his home in Fossil, Oregon just six months later at the age of 88.