on 31 January 2012
When I put down this book, I was awe-struck by it's epic scope taking the reader from the early Bowerman family's settling of Oregon through half a century of Olympics, the growth of Nike out of nowhere, the tragic life and death of Steve Prefontaine and a comprehensive history of the athletic side of the University of Oregon. Interweaving the tale are the eighty-eight years that our planet was lucky enough to have the genius of William Bowerman.
Authenticity and writing of the best quality permeates the pages courtesy of Kenny Moore, himself one of the Men of Oregon, and writer of the script for the excellent film "Without Limits" on Steve Prefontaine. When the film was shown to Bowerman, he simply said: "That is how it was, that is how it was with the Men of Oregon" and had he lived to read this book, one imagines it would have warranted a similar reaction.
Athlete, coach, farmer, inventor, entrepreneur, benefactor, politician, Nike co-founder, the tale reveals all the many hats Bill wore next to his favourite cowboy hat. Throughout he encounters the great men and enmeshes in the pivotal events of athletics: his losing battle against Lydiard's athletes, his heroic intervention at the Munich Olympics, a casual chat with Sebastian Coe and his tutelage of many of America's greatest talents such as Otis Davis, Bill Dellinger, Dyrol Burleson, Roscoe Divine and "Pre".
As the story unfolds you share in the early days of Adidas, Nike and ASICS (in the form of Onitsuka's "Tigers"), even earlier in the Second World War Bowermen faces off against the Germans in Italy with the Tenth Mountain Division, then with the insufferable bureaucrats of the AAU and the awesome might of Lydiard-inspired Lasse Viren. Plenty of personal tragedies and triumphs of the Bowerman family are also recounted along with an intriguing point of view on the death of Prefontaine neither of which I'll spoil for the reader here apart from saying that few chapters in any running biography I have read carried the poignancy and emotional impact to me as the chapter dealing with Pre's untimely death.
I shake my modern head in disbelief when looking at Bowerman's coaching practices which included pranks and practises that would have gotten him fired at any modern university, yet as it was, it created an eternal bond between him and his athletes, one based partly on this great "immortal message" from the latter parts of the book:
"Keeping vivid both the story of Pre and the truths that Bowerman held to be vital -namely, that we are all physical entities, that we all have the ability to get better (some of us a lot better), but to do that we have to accept our limits at any given moment and work within them. Great coaches are great because they see and help transcend those limit. If that is not an immortal message, it should be."