single-mindedness of Bowerman is at once asset and liability. "Over the
years Bill has offended people," says Sam Bell. "He's been so
preoccupied with what he's doing that he's ignored them. I think you'll find
quite a few men with genius arc that way." Bowerman's candor extends to
himself. "I have feet of clay," he says. "I have prejudices against
certain types of personality. But if I have an athlete who rubs me the wrong
way, I'll try to see that he works under a different coach."
Although he has
had national champions in 14 of the 20 individual Olympic events, excluding the
walks, Bowerman's most striking success has been with middle-distance runners,
especially milers. Again, experimentation seems to be responsible. "Every
kid is different," he says. "Unless you understand that, you can't
coach." Eschewing team workouts ("The best man loafs, the worst tears
himself down, maybe only one guy in the middle gets the optimum work").
Bowerman writes an individual program for each runner, scheduling two or three
weeks of workouts in advance. He tests each man's responses to widely differing
types of running, and it is not uncommon for two Oregon milers of equal ability
to go an entire season without running the same workout on the same day. In
addition he conducts yearly goal-setting sessions to make sure runner and coach
have the same ends in mind. He expects runners to understand the principles at
work in their training so that they can carry on to physical maturity.
Bowerman's last seven Olympic distance men all ran their best times after
He is most stern
in his injunctions against overwork. Runners are permitted only easy jogging
and weight lifting or a swim on days following hard runs. "The idea that
the harder you work, the better you're going to be is just garbage," he
says. "The greatest improvement is made by the man who works most
intelligently." Runners who are frequently sick or injured are suspected of
secret workouts or intemperate living, and "intemperate" may cover a
range of behavior. Bowerman once kicked 1967 PAC-8 steeplechase champion Bob
Williams off the team for sweeping out his church. "If he'd just sat there
and prayed, I would have encouraged him," Bowerman says, "but he was
doing too many extracurricular things." When Wade Bell failed to make the
finals of the 1966 PAC-8 half-mile, Bowerman boiled out of the stands.
"Bell, have you been romancing on me again?" he growled.
women as subversive. In one of his early seasons at Oregon a pulchritudinous
jogger appeared daily at the track, bent on distraction. Bowerman effected her
departure with a barrage from a pellet gun. Today he appears to have mellowed,
often bantering with coeds who come to watch the sprinters practice starts.
Occasionally, however, Bowerman will turn to the infield with a beatific smile
as the girls, with burning faces, rise and disperse and the sprinters giggle
and slap hands over his newest obscenity.
Bowerman lives in
a comfortable, split-level home he built himself on a cliff overlooking the
McKenzie River. Projects such as new patios, bathrooms and vineyards are
constantly undertaken, giving the place an air of incompleteness. Barbara is
accomplished in bonsai, the Japanese art of cultivating miniature trees.
Stately pines and gnarled firs 18 inches tall grace the terraces, and the yard
is a showplace for native shrubs.
When an Oregon
runner visits to discuss his training he may be given a shovel and told where
to haul a pile of sand. There is always a pile of sand. Once a truck driver,
bringing more sand, knocked down a prized holly. Expressionless, Bowerman
grabbed the 6-foot bush and wrenched it from the ground.
sorry," said the truck driver.
"It was an
accident," said Bill, "but my wife won't want to see her tree like
this. Why don't you take it with you?" He rammed the needle-tined bush
through the window of the cab. The driver yelped for some time before driving
Bowerman has kept
much of his 60 acres in its natural state and has considered willing the
property to the county to be kept as a park. (Says Bill Freeman, "He
probably doesn't intend to die, however.") He knows all of the great
variety of birds which nest in the area, and on summer evenings raccoons can be
seen receiving bread and milk on his front deck. Lane County's largest recorded
rattlesnake was killed by Bowerman—with a clipboard—on the road to his
A recent Bowerman
project is a large fishpond which he built by damming a spring-fed creek
several hundred yards from the house. One evening this spring Bill and Barbara
and a frenetic Llewellin setter called Gilgamesh (the Bowerman cat, which
floated down the river on the high flood of 1964, is named Ashurbanipal)
accompanied guests to the pond, walking through fields of sheep, stands of
ubiquitous Oregon firs and a tangled undergrowth of wild roses, watercress and
poison oak. In a grassy clearing beside the pond stood a large tepee.