seems to flow from an overpowering desire to consternate. A steeplechaser once
found caddis fly larvae in the water jump. Bowerman ordered him to interrupt
his workout to collect several dozen, which he surreptitiously introduced into
the indoor fountain in a crony's law office. In the warm water, the larvae soon
emerged as diaphanous-winged insects. Bill paid frequent calls, beaming at the
spectacle of the hatch and the frantic secretaries. Too, each year when the
circus visits the basketball court, Bowerman associates arc apt to receive
large, gift-wrapped boxes of elephant droppings.
joviality unities the often diverse personalities of his athletes, if only in
self-defense. Bowerman values a sense of common purpose, and annually takes his
team to a relatively isolated retreat for a week of "coming together."
Dressed in baggy shorts, an aromatic T shirt and some touch of the outlandish—a
beret, perhaps, or a pair of enormous, hexagonal women's sunglasses—he leads
his party aboard a chartered bus and gives wearying, pun-filled commentaries on
the flora, fauna, history and legend of the passing countryside.
The vigor of the
man captures the loyalty of many of his athletes. The day before the 1963 NCAA
cross-country race in East Lansing, Mich., the first that Oregon runners had
ever entered, Bowerman jogged the four-mile course with his team, pointing out
potential dangers and likely spots at which to pass. The other coaches stood on
a knoll and smoked cigars. There were no Steve Prefontaines on the Oregon team
then, but it finished second. "Bill communicated a sense of
confidence," recalls Clayton Steinke who, in 11th place, was the Ducks'
first finisher. "He cared enough to go out and see what it was going to be
like for us. And seeing those other coaches puffing away on the hill made it
more than a race. It was a contest of life-styles."
Bob Newland, the
1972 Olympic Trials' meet director, played quarterback and high-jumped for
Bowerman. He remembers football at Medford: "Bill always encouraged us to
think and react on our own. He never called the plays from the sidelines, but
there was an aura of dead certainty when we talked about game plans. He was
such a student of the sport and of our opponents that we were absolutely
convinced anything he suggested would go all the way. In practice most coaches
act like infantry commanders: they like to sec the bodies fly. Not Bill. He
taught us how to hit, but we really did it only in the games. That way we kept
all those fine athletes who like to play football but hate getting beaten up
Bill Freeman, a
graduate student, finds the man's sheer competitiveness his most pervasive
trait. "Even his interest in jogging [ Bowerman coauthored a book on the
subject which has sold over a million copies], to all appearances the least
competitive aspect of running, had a competitive origin," Freeman says.
"Bill was touring New Zealand in 1963 with his world-record four-mile relay
team when he took his first jog and found himself running with a 73-year-old
man. He soon learned the old man was holding back and staying with him out of
kindness. That old man beat me,' he said. That's not going to happen again.'
After that he ran every day, and on his return to Eugene he began his jogging
constantly foments small competitions with his athletes. "But always under
his rules," says Jim Grelle, an Olympian and former American mile
record-holder (3:55.4). "He badgered me to race him a 220 for weeks, and
when I accepted, he gave me the outside lane and told me over and over again
that I'd run a poor race if I looked back." Suspicious, Grelle looked back
and saw Bowerman cutting across the infield.
success has not been limited to guiding champions. He has advanced the state of
his art in several technical areas, chiefly through incessant experimentation.
He did the earliest—and smelliest—research in rubber-asphalt surfaces and
devised elastic cloth tops for practice hurdles so runners could work closely
over the barriers without bruising knees and ankles. A skilled cobbler, he has
done prototype work on training and racing shoes for several large
manufacturers and has made lightweight shoes for his milers out of snakeskin.
Recently he developed a special, shock-absorbent "waffle" shoe for use
on artificial surfaces.
seldom proceed smoothly. Barbara's waffle iron fell victim to a batch of
urethane, destined for shoe soles, which cooked too long and bonded it shut. In
the early '50s Bowerman found that long underwear, like a wet suit, keeps a
runner warmer in the Oregon rain than do bulkier sweat pants, so he outfitted
his Ducks in long white drawers. In the following days he was swamped with
calls from indignant matrons, protesting the indecency of such attire. Bill
stopped the fuss by dyeing the long Johns green.
before the advent of Gatorade, Bowerman tried to develop a liquid that would
replenish a marathoner's salt and other essentials lost in sweat. He sent one
slender guinea pig six miles under a beating sun and prepared a mixture of
lemonade, salt, honey and tea which, when fed to the panting runner, was
promptly spewed across the track.
"What do you
think this is, the Cordon Bleu?" Bowerman said. "If it makes you run
faster, that should be enough." Later, he sampled it himself. "It does
taste like sheep's urine," he admitted.