Bowerman Served as Running Pioneer

Sunday, January 28, 2007

We take it all for granted: runners everywhere, weekend races, orthopedically sound training shoes, decent places to run. But it wasn't always so.

Sixty years ago, there was no such thing as running as we now know it in this country or anywhere in the world. In the post-World War II environment, athletic pursuits generally and running in particular were considered frivolous and limited primarily to schoolchildren and male college athletes who crossed their last finish line and promptly quit the sport.

Of course, much has occurred to affect changes in our collective outlook, primary among them a greater awareness of personal health and an increase in leisure time.

Today we know that running and exercise make our lives better.

Olympian Kenny Moore honors one of the sport's pioneers and his former coach in "Bowerman and the Men of Oregon," released last summer by Rodale Press.

By any account, Bill Bowerman had a remarkable run as a war hero, coach for a string of NCAA champions and Olympians, and Nike co-founder along with his former 800-meter runner Phil "Buck" Knight.

Moore, whose account tends to expand from biography to hagiography, rightly credits his former coach with numerous training innovations and recounts the famous incident with Mrs. Bowerman's waffle iron, the result of which became a prototype for Nike outer soles.

At Oregon and on the track at Hayward Field, Bowerman made running a populist endeavor, one that the city of Eugene embraces still. Bowerman only came to running for fitness after visiting high-mileage guru Arthur Lydiard in New Zealand and seeing the nascent running movement there.

An old-school coach and something of a martinet, even by Moore's glowing account, Bowerman exemplified the authoritarianism of the 1950s and '60s. Just as Lydiard enlightened Bowerman about "jogging," it took a brash Steve Prefontaine to force Bowerman to rethink his time-tested training theories. The result was even greater innovation and freedom on and off the track.

Today, in a nation where an absence of physical fitness is unimaginable, we do well to consider Bowerman and his contributions. Equally notable is the distance from him we have run.

BOSTON MARATHON: Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor will run her first Boston Marathon on April 16, racing against defending champion Rita Jeptoo, from Kenya, and Jelena Prokopcuka, from Latvia, the leader in the inaugural World Marathon Majors competition.

-- Jim Hage

© 2007 The Washington Post Company