"As Bill Bowerman helped define the sport of running as we know it today, this honor is extremely appropriate. His legend lives on through the runners he coached, the product innovators he taught and through all who participate in the sport itself."
-- Philip H. Knight,
Nike Chairman and CEO,
and lifetime friend of Bill Bowerman
speaking on the matter of his Hall of Fame entry
Bill Bowerman was born in Fossil, Oregon in 1911 to Jay and Lizzie Bowerman. He lived in Ashland and Seatle, Washington as well as Portland, Oregon before moving to Medford to attend high school there. While at Medford HS Bill played only one sport, football, and he only played for his junior and senior years. Not very impressive until you discover that Medford HS won the Oregon State Championship in both the two years that Bill played for the team. Bowerman continued his education at the University of Oregon where he played football and basketball for four years. Near the end of his senior year track coach Colonel Bill Hayward talked Bowerman into joining the U of O track team and Bowerman ran team best times in the 440 yard race that season. He went on to graduate in 1934 with a degree in Buisiness Administration. Afterwards, Bowerman underwent brief teaching stays at Portland and Medford as well as a tour of duty during WWII, in which (according to urban Bowerman legend) he single handedly negotiated the surrender of a German army while a member of the 10th Mountain Division. A short time after the war, Bowerman found himself back at the University of Oregon.
Bowerman returned to the University of Oregon in 1948. He was the University's head track coach the next spring. Thus, his legend was born...
In his 24 years of coaching at the University of Oregon Bowerman accumulated a list of accolades longer than a decent miler's stride (that's two meters for those who don't get the reference). Bowerman was directly responsible for coaching 51 All-Americans, 24 NCAA individual champions, 10 sub 4-minute milers (in an era where this was not common), 12 American record holders, and 21 Olympians. His outdoor track team won the NCAA Championship meet four times (1962, 1964, 1965, and 1970) and finished second place on two other occassions. When the Ducks of Oregon won in 1962, both Bowerman's 440 yard relay and 4-mile relay set world records. Out of the 24 years Bowerman coached at the University of Oregon, the outdoor track and field team finished in the top ten at NCAA championships 16 times. His teams dual meet record was 114-20 (for a winning percentage of 0.843, lifetime). In the Bowerman era, only 5 different collegiate teams ever beat the University of Oregon.
In passions other than strictly "coaching" (Bill always insisted on two things, it is said. Those were to always call him by his first name, and that he was a teacher before he was a coach) Bowerman had two primary ones. He loved introducing people to the joys of running, and also the innovation of running technology. He addressed both of these in the 1960's. Following a track trip to New Zealand earlier in the decade, he wrote the popular book Jogging. In New Zealand he was amazed when he saw common people running. He was so pleasantly surprised by non-competitive athletes running for enjoyment and fitness purposes that he campaigned heavily in his home state until he turned the college town of Eugene, Oregon into, for a short time, the running capital of the world*. A few years later, an experiment with leather, latex, glue, and his wife's favorite waffle iron Bowerman produced the first rubber soled, waffle patterned, lightweight running shoe. Years of tinkering and improvement would lead not only to the development of the modern running shoe, but also a small running shoe company which was later named after the Greek goddess of Victory. Today Nike makes products and offers services for runners and athletes of all types around the world.
Bowerman would retire from coaching only after coaching the American track and field team at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, at which he was openly disgusted with both Olympic Village Security and the terrorist acts which took place in the middle of those same games. Six athletes won gold medals under Bowerman at Munich.
Bowerman enjoyed his coaching retirement, to an extent. After being inducted to the American Running Hall of Fame Bowerman served as a Member of the Nike Board of Directors from 1968-1999, when he stepped down in June. As a parting gift to their most famous innovator, Nike co-sponsors a Bill Bowerman award to the US distance running coach who believes, as Bill did, that they are more of a teacher than a coach.
Six months later, on Christmas Eve 1999, Bill Bowerman would die in his sleep, at his home in Fossil, Oregon at the age of 88. He was survived by his wife, two children, and four grandchildren. Since his passing, Nike has set up the Bowerman Foundation to renovate youth track and field facilities around the world through 2005 and several University of Oregon alumni who trained under Bowerman have endeavored to set up a Bowerman Scholarship Foundation, so that his name, and his spirit, will not be forgotten. Most recently, Nike has reinstated The Bowerman Series, a collection of running shoes using some of Bowerman's first designs, applying today's technology.
Bill Bowerman. High school football player. Collegiate track and field coach. American coaching great. Legend. Hero. Bill Bowerman epitomized poise and thoughfulness, whether lounging in his fan cooled office while his runners struggled with a repeat workout in the heat, or pacing the infield during a rainstorm, cheering on his tired flock during meets. Bill Bowerman was a gift to running, and his contributions to the sport make him one of my heroes.
"God determines how fast you're going to run; I can help only with the mechanics."
"Several of my critics have said, 'Bowerman just tacks up a piece of paper in the locker room and turns his runners loose.' They're partially right. I do give the athletes a relatively free rein and for good reason. One of my principles is 'Don't overcoach.'"
"I still bother with runners I call hamburgers. They're never going to run any record times. But they can fulfill their own potential."
"A teacher is never too smart to learn from his pupils. But while runners differ, basic principles never change. So it's a matter of fitting your current practices to fit the event and the individual. See, what's good for you might not be worth a darn for the next guy."
"If someone says, 'Hey, I ran 100 miles this week. How far did you run?' ignore him! What the hell difference does it make?.... The magic is in the man, not the 100 miles."
"The more you sweat in training the less you bleed in battle."
"I think people can handle 150 to 200 miles a week. But something has to give somewhere. If he's a student, how's he going to study? He may be at the age of chasing and courtship, and that's an important form of sport and recreation, too."
"The real purpose of running isn't to win a race, it's to test the limits of the human heart!"
"One might say running is an absurd pastime. But if you can find the meaning in the kind of running you must do to stay on my team then you may find meaning in the other absurd pastime. Life."
*The running captital of the late 1990's and turn of the century could be considered to be Boulder, Colorado which is home of the University of Colorado Buffaloes and their famous Coach Mark Wetmore.