The Bowerman influence – 50 years later

Bill Bowerman had a huge influence on my decision to be a track coach. In the winter of 1968; my senior year in college at Fresno State, Bowerman came to speak as the featured speaker at the first ever Fresno State Track & Field Clinic. He was brought to Fresno by Red Estes, assistant track coach at Fresno State (later to be head coach) who had competed at the University of Oregon under Bowerman. What can I say: Bowerman was Bowerman, passionate, direct to the point, outspoken and strong in his beliefs. He was obviously very knowledgeable in all disciples of track and field even though he was known as a distance coach.

After the first night of the clinic, as I was walking back to my apartment through the cold wet San Joaquin valley fog, I made up my mind to be a track coach. I wanted to be like Bowerman, I was so impressed with his knowledge and passion I could think of no other way to go. Over the next few years I read everything about him and his program, heard him speak numerous times, but that presentation that first night of the clinic still sticks with me. He and my father had a huge influence on my thinking that there are no shades of gray; it is right or wrong, no argument. Not that I have ever have achieved what Bowerman did in his career but that has stuck with me.

These quotes capture a little of Bowerman. The first quote is not directly from Bowerman but you can clearly see his influence. It is from Oregana, the 1962 University of Oregon Yearbook.

“World record shattering potential is not easy to come by, and even after it is found it has to be developed to realize its maximum potential. This potential is diverse in its many forms and a knowledge of the components that make up this potential is essential to successfully exploit it.”

Victory is in having done your best. If you’ve done your best, you’ve won.

“It is quite simple to observe that great middle distances runners have usually been medium to just above average in height, slightly below average in weight, slight of build, with well-defined musculature. They also usually have a somewhat lower pulse rate than average. But to select runners purely on the basis of these characteristics would probably result in little more success than choosing them by the color of their eyes and hair.”

“Champions and potential champions must have an abundance of energy and tenacity. They must be willing to stick to workout procedures that would seem grueling to the average person, to perform them in fair weather and foul. Furthermore, they are eager, not only to defeat opposition, but to push themselves to full capacity on the competitive field.”

My method of devising a training schedule (specific assignments for workouts) is not very different from a physician’s method of arriving at a prescription for a patient. The first step is diagnosis, becoming acquainted with the patients or athlete’s abilities and disabilities. The second step is an assessment of what improvement can reasonably be expected and what specific recommendations are needed. The final step is a period of trial and observation to adjust the “dosage” or training schedule to optimum levels for the safest and most rapid improvement of condition.”

If you want to learn more about Bowerman read Kenny Moore’s fine book Bowerman and the Men of Oregon: The Story of Oregon’s Legendary Coach and Nike’s Cofounder. What sport needs today is more Bill Bowerman’s who have the passion, courage and knowledge to speak their mind and stand up against drugs and cheating.

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