The Register-Guard sports section header

Legend on the page: Former UO runner's biography of Bill Bowerman available soon

By Ron Bellamy
The Register-Guard
 
Published: Friday, April 7, 2006

In 1971, as part of a pamphlet published by Runner's World, Kenny Moore wrote a vignette about his mentor, Oregon track and field coach Bill Bowerman.

But it was, he lamented in the conclusion, impossible to capture Bowerman - his complex personality, his influence, his impact - in just a few paragraphs. Certainly, he wrote then, it would take a much longer article, and he left readers with these words: "Wait for the book."

Thirty-five years after that whimsical promise, Moore has written that book, triumphantly.

"Bowerman and the Men of Oregon" is due to be released soon nationally, probably sometime next month, by Rodale Inc. The hard-bound book ($28.95) is 480 pages, encompassing 30 chapters written by Moore, and a foreword by Phil Knight, the former Oregon runner who co-founded Nike with Bowerman.

The book will be celebrated during Saturday's Pepsi Team Invitational at Hayward Field, when Moore will present the first copy to Bowerman's widow, Barbara.

"Without Bowerman," Knight has said more than once, "there would be no me."

It is perhaps equally true that without Bowerman, Eugene and the University of Oregon would be indescribably different today.

Through his track and field program, and athletes from Jim Bailey and Bill Dellinger through Mac Wilkins and Steve Prefontaine; through his introduction of jogging, imported from New Zealand, and role in creating local all-comers meets for children; and through his leadership in bringing three U.S. Olympic Trials to Hayward Field, Bowerman gave this community and its university an enduring identity.

Bowerman's life spanned social movements, and the tragedy of the 1972 Olympics, and the brilliant career and untimely death of Pre, and the development of the shoe company that became Nike.

And so Moore's first biography (his previous book, "Best Efforts," was a collection of articles he wrote for Sports Illustrated) is about more than one man. As a community, "Bowerman and the Men of Oregon" becomes a book about us.

"It's the history of running, because he was there in the middle," Moore said. "It's the history of American social movements. I think it's an exemplar of a particular, wonderful creature, a problem-solving Oregonian of pioneer stock, a descendant of people who went through this great winnowing that made the virtue of toughness, and endurance, and solving things with what you had at hand, and practicality, and humor, that is Oregon's tradition.

"There's no greater exemplar. So when you want to say, `What does this mean? What does he mean to us?' that's what he meant to me personally, and to the state as a whole."

Bowerman coached the Oregon program from 1949 through 1972. That span encompassed four NCAA team titles in track and field, and 24 individual titles, spanning 15 of the 19 events, and a dual-meet record of 114-20 when those were the backbone of college track and filled the stands at Hayward Field.

He was an innovator, and an inventor. He was an athlete, soldier, teacher, coach, leader, entrepreneur and philanthropist. He was a molder, of shoes and of men.

Moore, 62, graduated from North Eugene High School and ran for Bowerman at Oregon, and through two Olympic marathons, in 1968 and 1972, before becoming a writer for Sports Illustrated. He ultimately wrote the script for the documentary about Prefontaine, "Fire on the Track," and co-wrote one of the two movies about the runner, "Without Limits."

He began work on his biography of Bowerman in 1993, shelved it when his marriage dissolved, and didn't return to it until 2001, when he was living in Hawaii. By then, Bowerman had passed away - on Christmas Eve, 1999, in Fossil, at age 88 - but Moore had 24 hours of recorded interviews with Bowerman taped by former UO official Bill Landers, who also recorded interviews with Bowerman's family and friends. Moore also had access to papers and memorabilia at Nike and the UO library.

Furthermore, in addition to his own interviews, Moore had his own experiences, over the decades with Bowerman, and those first-person recollections give the book a unique personality and credibility.

In July 2002, feeling the book was going too slowly, Moore moved back to Eugene; final editing took place late last year. The quickest chapter took two weeks to write; the most difficult took a month. The toughest to write, he said, was the account of the 1972 Olympics in Munich, where Bowerman was the U.S. track and field coach, and where terrorists massacred 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.

"In terms of reliving it, and struggling with it, and feeling it, it was Munich," Moore said. "It always takes me back. But he was such the star of that. He was so holding us together then. He held me together again when I was writing it, with his wonderful language about Olympic ideals."

Often, Moore said, he would work on the book with a tape of Bowerman playing in the background, and he said the experience of writing the book was "like a great long run where yeah, you're getting tired, but it's what you're made for, its what you're designed for. I never felt it was any sense of sacrifice. Just rightness. ...

"I'm very, very content that I've done something that I set out to do. ... (Bowerman) called me `tenacious beyond belief,' was his phrase once, something he announced to the Oregon Club, when I didn't think of myself as that. I had to be tenacious after that. So to have lasted out something on one level, that's really rewarding, especially since it was a book about the guy who instilled the tenacity."

Moore said friends sometimes questioned whether he could be "tough" on Bowerman, whether he could show the strong-willed, earthy individualist with warts and all. Moore believes that he has done that, noting "he loved to keep people off balance. He was testing you. We all took him a little differently. You were absolved of trying to capture the real Bowerman, because the real Bowerman was quicksilver."

The book contains gripping accounts of famous races involving Oregon athletes, and many small gems of research: Letters written by Bowerman to Barbara from Italy during World War II; the fact that Bowerman once offered famed New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard a position as his distance coach; the words, found in two drafts, that Bowerman spoke at Pre's memorial service.

And the book is characterized by the eloquent, sensitive prose that is classic Kenny Moore:

On racing: "Bowerman (without ever pronouncing the word pain) taught that you redefine yourself a little with every honest, killing effort. You might not win, but you will have been brave. If you can admit that to yourself, bravery is a hell of a thing to build on."

On shoe-making: "Bill realized he needed a mold that he could heat. One summer Sunday morning in 1971, when Barbara was at church, his roving eye fell upon their waffle iron. He opened it and ran his fingers over its square little iron nubs. `They felt,' he recalled, `halfway between spike and cleats.' He absconded with the waffle iron to his shop, poured in some liquid urethane, turned on the heat - and bonded it shut."

On Prefontaine: "During that 10,000, as he came by on the backstretch, eyes rolled back, mouth agape, moaning, he really seemed to be running into oblivion. Yet when he came past the crowd and it stood up and thundered, he showed that he heard. The rest of us would hear the crowd, be moved to hang on, and try to lift a grateful arm afterward, but Pre always acknowledged his crowd in the moment. He cocked his head then, surged for them then - and they thundered all the more."

Excerpts of "Bowerman and the Men of Oregon" have appeared in Runner's World and Oregon Quarterly, and Knight's foreword is to be published in the next issue of Playboy.

The release of Moore's book, at one point expected as early as next week, has now been delayed until probably sometime in May, according to a Rodale publicist. When it does reach bookshelves, in a first-printing of 15,000 copies, Moore has committed himself to a series of local book-signings (the UO Bookstore, J. Michaels) as well as signings and readings across the nation keyed to a target audience of runners and track and field fans, with the hope that ultimately the book will transcend that.

As Bowerman himself transcended his role as a track and field coach.