SI Vault
Kenny Moore
August 14, 1972
Olympic Track Coach Bill Bowerman motivates his athletes by quoting Scripture, by cursing, by classical allusions, by practical jokes, by cheating
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August 14, 1972

Fishing In The Rivers Of Men's Minds

Olympic Track Coach Bill Bowerman motivates his athletes by quoting Scripture, by cursing, by classical allusions, by practical jokes, by cheating

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"Indians," said Bowerman. "They keep the poachers away."

Using a tiny gray fly and a deft touch with his rod, he caught half a dozen trout for dinner, releasing a three-pound rainbow.

"I have a total disinterest in making money," he said. "Two or three years from now, when I get thrown out of the university, I may change my tune, but now, so long as we're eating well, I can't get worked up about it. We have the fish. There are plenty of acorns around here. And I believe in the ravens. Ravens fed Elijah when he was hiding in the wilderness from King Ahab."

How does he feel about being Olympic coach? "Of course it's the greatest honor I could ever have," he said, "but I'm a little cynical about honors because the summer is going to be a pain in the lower back. Working with the tremendous talent we'll have on the team will be a pure joy, but off the track it is unreasonable to expect everything to go smoothly. With the talent comes the temperament.

"Our first job is to convince these studhorses that we want to help them, not just tell them what to do. Olympic coaches don't do much real coaching, certainly not unless they're asked. Do you know George Frenn? You'd get a hammer in your ear if you tried to tell him anything he didn't want to know."

A pileated woodpecker called raucously from the forest. Bowerman addressed himself to the question of where the Olympics are going. "The role of all sport," he said, "is to help people learn competitive responses. Beyond that, the big international games and tours serve to increase understanding between cultures. They keep people from being isolated and provincial. Now, you always strive for excellence. But in the emphasis on winning, some of these goals can be obscured. For example, we always dominate the Pan-American Games. I have proposed, and been hooted down, that we continue to send our national champions to the Pan-Ams, but that the second entrant in each event must be able to speak one of the other languages of the hemisphere, Spanish or Portuguese. I have no illusions that many officials agree with me. The USOC generally seems preoccupied with running up the score.

"Winning is nice," he said as he cleaned the trout with a pair of Barbara's scissors, "but you savor that victory for an evening and you wake up the next morning and it's gone. I believe we compete for every breath we draw, but competing well is just not to be equated with winning." Bowerman glanced up at his patiently listening wife. "Barbara doesn't buy all this," he said. "She says I have to win."

"Never believe he doesn't," she said. "He'll die when he stops. It was an effort, but I've come to see that there just isn't any other way people could do these great things like four-minute miles without the drive to win."

Bowerman stopped eviscerating the fish and turned to look at her. His eyes crinkled. He was pleased.

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