Bowerman and the Men of Oregon

Bowerman and the Men of Oregon 
Kenny Moore, Rodale Press, 2006.

Even S.B.A.A. club members who never heard of Bill Bowerman, the legendary track coach at the University of Oregon 1948-1973, are and have been in some measure influenced by him, for it was Bowerman who, after a trip to New Zealand in 1961, first introduced”jogging” to the American public and began the Running Boom which is still with us today, and over the last half-century has so altered the landscape of recreation in this country and world-wide.

That aside, Bowerman as a coach of elite track and marathon runners, and as a human being, are the primary focii of this book, a welcome addition to the sports library and a tribute from Kenny Moore, one of Bowerman’s best athletes – U.S. Olympic team in the marathon in 1968 and 1972, fourth at Munich in 1972, national champion and gifted writer – and all the people who contributed their recollections of a great man and an old-fashioned “individual” in the best sense of the word to the sport.

Bowerman, a star football player and indifferent quarter-miler at U. Oregon, returned after the Second World War to coach successive teams to national prominence and championships, hatching in the course of his career not just great distance runners but sprinters, hurdlers and field-event performers as well, all with a unique blend of technical insight, cutting-edge innovation and motivational skills. Bowerman had his failures and his drop-outs, misjudgments and mistakes, but overall he had a run of success which few coaches, in any sport, can equal, and he topped everything off with his contributions to Nike, of which he was one (of two) founders, a company which is now the largest sporting goods company in the world, one of the largest corporations in the recreation industry, and a model of successful business planning and organization.

Moore gives us the (mostly) unvarnished Bowerman, warts and all, although there’s still some hero-worship in the approach. Quick to judge and slow to forgive, Bowerman had faults and failings, and lost some remarkable athletes along the way, athletes who couldn’t get his trust or interest or didn’t want to do things his way. That having been said, there is no question that Bowerman’s influence was remarkable and his career noteworthy; those of us who competed against the Oregon teams and runners which he produced, and watched and read about their exploits, can still remember the greats he coached and inspired – Moore himself, Dyrol Burleson, Bill Dellinger, Steve Prefontaine, Mac Wilkins….the list is a long one, without parallel in coaching history, I think, and the book is an entertaining and  useful read even for those who really have never been all that interested in track and field per se, but just run and jog for exercise – Because it was Bowerman who pioneered jogging, and hard-easy training, and general fitness and recreational, as opposed to competitive, running in this country and internationally. Moore has an interesting subject and interesting and amusing  stories, and even those readers without any particular knowledge of or interest in the sport will have a fun time reading about an idiosyncratic and colorful guy who also happened to be a Great Man in an old-fashioned sense, a shaper of lives and futures and careers and a whole life-style.

 

–Des O’Neill, December 2006

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