© Copyright – 2023 – Athletics Illustrated

Title: Bowerman and the Men of Oregon

Author: Kenny Moore

Pages: 417

Publisher: Rodale

Publish date: 2006

ISBN: 13-978-1-59486-190 hardcover
ISBN: 13-978-1-59486-731-6 paperback

Genre: Biography

The review

In reference to the Munich Massacre that happened during the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, Bill Bowerman said, “The ancient Greeks, believed the Olympic arena so sacred they stopped their wars for them. Now we believe our wars are so sacred we sacrifice Olympics for them.”

Forty-plus years later, the Olympic Games continue to be a political vehicle, except when it is inconvenient for the International Olympic Committee and its president Thomas Bach. Have we not advanced?

Bowerman would not be happy with the state of white elephants in some post-Olympic cities like Rio. He would probably bristle at the notion of super shoes, having hand-crafted and invented a fair few pairs during his time with Blue Ribbon Sports, which later became Nike.

Author Kenny Moore

Author Kenny Moore, a former Bowerman athlete, is a surprisingly good writer. His voice is present. Perhaps he is humble. The number of sentences that started with the letter “I” was very limited, which is refreshing. Moore probably had every right to make himself a larger part of the story, but alas, Bowerman and the Men of Oregon is not an autobiography.

Moore ran the 1970 Fukuoka Marathon in 2:11:36 which was an international-standard performance a the time. Ron Hill held the marathon world record of 2:09:28.80 then from the 1970 running of the Edinburgh Marathon.

Moore also ran a 20K best of 1:02:26 and set a 28:47.60 10,000m PB. These were fast times 50 years ago. During the Munich Olympic Games, Moore finished fourth in the marathon.

After retiring from competition, Moore became a journalist and screenwriter. He had a 25-year career covering athletics for Sports Illustrated. At the end of his career, Moore wrote about former competitor Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia, who was falsely imprisoned. In his story, Moore advocated Wolde’s release from prison. He would die a free man months after his release.

Moore also helped to write the screenplay for the 1998 biopic Without Limits, a film about former Oregon Ducks and Steve Prefontaine.

There is much more to Bowerman than coach and destroyer of waffle irons

There are too few superlatives to describe Bill Bowerman. He was a very charitable man. He was a successful coach, inventor of shoes, event organizer and visionary among other things.

No sports figure and perhaps no one at all in Oregon had more influence during the Bowerman era than Bowerman himself. He coached competitive University of Oregon track teams as well as the 1972 Olympic team. Bowerman is partially credited with creating the running boom that took over the USA during the 1970s. He co-founded Nike, now the largest sports apparel company in the world.

He was quotable too, for example, he would tell his Ducks team, “The real purpose of running isn’t to win a race, it’s to test the limits of the human heart. The idea that the harder you work, the better you’re going to be is just garbage. The greatest improvement is made by the man or woman who works most intelligently.”

And, “Men of Oregon, I invite you to become students of your events. Running, one might say, is basically an absurd pastime upon which to be exhausting ourselves. But if you can find meaning, in the kind of running you have to do to stay on this team, chances are you will be able to find meaning in another absurd pastime: life.”

Moore writes from a first-person perspective, but often his perspective is third-person-like. Moore only reminds the reader on occasion that he is part of the story.

The protagonist was as irascible in defending his moral standards as he could be empathetic and nearly to a fault. Bowerman and the Men of Oregon is indispensable for anyone interested in the sport of athletics, but his legend transcends Nike, Oregon and the sport.

He had revolutionary ideas for his time during the 1950s and into the 1970s. In training, he offered rest days, which was unusual for the times. He deeply researched training methods for all distances and field events even though he was not a middle-distance or distance runner or field athlete himself. In fact, he was a good 400-metre or 440-yard athlete. He experimented with runners’ clothing, shoes and training partly from his own ideas and partly from Arthur Lydiard of New Zealand.

Some of the old-school mind games, motivation tactics and manipulation were tough. Today, he would be sued, fired and crucified on social media. For example, he hazed his new runners by urinating on them in the shower and branding rookie thighs with a hot keys in the sauna.

Bowerman was a central figure in the development of Nike. He was involved during many critical moments in American running history. He coached Steve Prefontaine, and invented Nike’s waffle-soled shoe, by burning through his wife Barbara’s waffle irons in the garage.

Moore’s work here is extensive, deep and thorough. There appear to be no stones unturned. He researched the Bowerman genealogy back a few generations to the colonialist-settler era, before diving into Bowerman’s childhood illustrating indelible moments in time that coloured the man later in life.

Bowerman and the Men of Oregon is a recommended read.

Purchase is available through Amazon.