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At length, Oregon's then-President William Boyd, in a delicate shift, said the university had no objection to the script, and would give permission if it were acceptable to the Oregon T.C., which meant Bowerman.
Bowerman was and is my coach. The greatest honor I can do special friends is to take them to meet him and walk his hillside above the McKenzie River. Yet he was unyielding. "Ask me anything but that," he said, when I requested he meet with Towne. It was Bowerman's friend and neighbor and attorney, John Jaqua, who finally set it up.
Towne had been in Eugene a week by now, and seemed near the end of his rope. Driving up to Bowerman's, he said, "I don't know what to say to him. I have no sense of Bill Bowerman besides the amazing respect he commands." His hands were shaking.
Bowerman met us coolly. He placed us in soft chairs and for himself took a hard straight one. I gave a little summary, concluding that the decision was now up to him. He turned to Towne.
Towne hesitated, seeming lost, wild-eyed. "I looked at Bowerman," he would say later, "and I suddenly knew that here was that rare man who isn't controlled by bureaucratic fears or others' opinions. I understood that if he decided that I was one percent more right than wrong, he would support me."
Thus encouraged, Towne began a remarkable performance. Softly, he traced the origins of the project, from meeting Jane Frederick in the UCLA weight room in 1976 and, through her, coming to know and be affected by the world of female track athletes. He had written the screenplay with the help of Frederick, javelin thrower Kate Schmidt and hurdler Patrice Donnelly. He was determined to approach the highest level of reality. He would use world-class athletes in all but two roles. Hemingway, who'd grown up a skier in Idaho, had been training for the pentathlon events of hurdles, shotput, high jump, long jump and 800 meters for 18 months.
Towne's graying hair rose about his head as he pressed on, explaining something of his motives, his feeling for athletes. "I see a purity in their desire always to be better, to jump higher, run faster. I think at heart I took up the project in a deeply emotional way when my daughter was a year old; watching her desire to walk, her struggle to make her hands move in a new way, seeing her joy at physical progress. That's the way athletes are, that's what they go through their pain for, and women athletes cannot help but emerge with a compelling combination of strength and sensitivity."
Bowerman sat, impassive and unreadable. Towne churned on, saying he wanted to do a movie that showed track and field as it had never been shown before, its beauty, its lonely difficulty, and that it was absurd to think of doing it anywhere but in Eugene and at the Trials. He expressed some frustration at Eugene's not seeming to believe him. "They say I'm crazy in the industry for using real athletes, but I can't understand Eugene's not wanting to give me my best shot at showing something that Eugene loves as much as I do...."
Bowerman held up a hand. "You stay off my track," he said in a tone that I knew, a pronouncement. "You stay off my infield. And I don't care if you photograph each other——yourselves under the stands."
At first it didn't sink in. Towne went on agreeing to every condition, coming up with new arguments. Even in the car he said, "You really think it's all right now?"