SI Vault
 
Track and Field's Master Teacher
Kenny Moore
January 24, 2000
One of his runners recalls the genius of Oregon coaching giant and Nike cofounder Bill Bowerman
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
January 24, 2000

Track And Field's Master Teacher

One of his runners recalls the genius of Oregon coaching giant and Nike cofounder Bill Bowerman

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2

He closed his great, calloused hands around my throat, lifted me an inch off the ground and explained that I would agree to an experiment or I was off the team. I would do nothing but easy three-mile jogs on days between even remotely taxing workouts. As I was passing out, I submitted.

Three weeks later he entered me in the two mile against Oregon State, watched me warm up and said to begin no faster than a nine-minute pace and not to chase Oregon State's Dale Story, the NCAA cross-country champion who ran barefoot and was 30 seconds better. Stripping down to my filmy, Bowerman-designed racing shirt and shorts, I felt battle-naked. The spikes of his feather-light racing shoes sank into the cinder track with a gnashing sound I still hear.

On the starting line I saw that Story's uniform looked heavy, almost like wool, and something hit me of the patient care with which Bowerman had prepared me. I gave myself to his plan. I ran 4:30 for the first mile; Story ran 4:19 and led by 70 yards. Bowerman, on the infield, called, "He won't hold it. See what you can do."

I began to gain, and the crowd, Bowerman's crowd, 10,000 strong, saw me coming and got up and called. With half a mile to go I had no real will left, only that thunder that would not let me slow. Into the last turn Story still had 10 yards. Then he looked back, his shoulders tightened, and I learned for the first time how much competitive savagery lay deep in my heart.

I outkicked him by a second in 8:48, ripping 27 seconds from my best, finishing in bedlam, crowd and teammates pressing the air out of me, people shouting that everything was possible now, the Olympics were possible now. Bowerman was there with wild blue eyes and a fiendish grin, and I knew what he would say: "See! I told you so! You just needed rest!"

But he didn't. He bent to my ear. "Kenny," he whispered, "even I never thought you could run that fast. Even I."

How should Bowerman be remembered? He rendered vastly different gifts to his state, his university, his company, to each of his athletes. Each of them must say what he treasures most.

As for me, all I need is to remember that race and see that face and know I was with Bowerman in glory.

1 2