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William Jay "Bill" Bowerman
Born February 19, 1911
Portland, Oregon, U.S.
Died December 24, 1999 (aged 88)
Fossil, Oregon
Occupation Track and field coach, founder of Nike, Inc.
Spouse(s) Barbara Young Bowerman (June 22, 1936 until death)
Children Jon Bowerman (born June 22, 1938)
William J. "Jay" Bowerman, Jr. (born November 17, 1942)
Thomas Bowerman (born May 20, 1946)
Nike Corporation

William Jay "Bill" Bowerman (February 19, 1911 – December 24, 1999) was an American track and field coach and co-founder of Nike, Inc. He was a very successful track coach, training 31 Olympic athletes, 51 All-Americans, 12 American record-holders, 24 NCAA champions, and 16 sub-4 minute milers. During his 24 years as coach at the University of Oregon, the track and field team had a winning season every season but one, attained 4 NCAA titles, and finished in the top 10 in the nation 16 times. He is also the recipient of the Oxford Cup, Beta Theta Pi's greatest honor.[1]


Early life

Bill Bowerman was born on February 19, 1911 in Portland, Oregon. His father was former Governor of Oregon Jay Bowerman;[2] his mother had grown up in Fossil. The family returned to Fossil after the parents divorced in 1913. Bowerman had an older brother and sister, Dan and Mary Elizabeth “Beth.” Bowerman also had a twin brother, Thomas, who died in an elevator accident when he was less than 1 year old .[3]

Bowerman attended Medford and Seattle schools before returning to Medford for high school. Bowerman played in the high school band and for the state champion football team his junior and senior years. Bowerman first met Barbara Young, the woman he would marry, in high school in Medford.

In 1929, Bowerman attended the University of Oregon to play football and study journalism. He was a member of Beta Theta Pi Fraternity.

After graduating he taught biology and coached football at Franklin High School in Portland in 1934. In 1935, Bowerman moved back to Medford to teach and coach football.

Bowerman was married on June 22, 1936. His first son, Jon, was born June 22, 1938. William J. Bowerman, Jr. (“Jay”) was born November 17, 1942.


Military career

Bowerman enlisted in the United States Army as a 2nd Lieutenant in the days following the Pearl Harbor attack. He was assigned to Fort Lawton in Washington and served a year there before being assigned to the 86th Mountain Infantry Regiment at Camp Hale in Leadville, Colorado. Along with the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment, his regiment would become the 10th Mountain Division.[4]

Bowerman's duty entailed organizing the troops' supplies and maintaining the mules used to carry the supplies in the mountains. On December 23, 1944, the division arrived in Naples, Italy and soon moved north to the mountains of northern Italy.[5] During his tour of duty, Bowerman was promoted to commander of the 86th Regiment's First Battalion at the rank of Major.[6] Bowerman negotiated a stand-down of German forces near the Brenner Pass in the days before the surrender of the German army in all of Italy.[7] For his service, Bowerman received four Bronze Star Medals, a Good Conduct Medal, and a Silver Star. He was honorably discharged in October 1945.[8]

Coaching career

After the war, he returned to his position at Medford High School. Bowerman's third son, Thomas, was born May 20, 1946. The family then moved to Eugene, Oregon, where he became the head football coach at the University of Oregon on July 1, 1948.

University of Oregon

Bowerman made his biggest mark as a track coach. His "Track Men of Oregon" won 24 NCAA individual titles (with wins in 15 of the 19 events contested) and four NCAA team crowns (1962-1964-1965-1970), and posted 16 top-10 NCAA finishes in 24 years as head coach. His teams also boasted 33 Olympians, 38 conference champions and 64 All-Americans. At the dual level, the Ducks posted a 114-20 record and went undefeated in 10 seasons. In addition, Bowerman coached the world record setting 4-mile (6.4 km) relay team in 1962. This team consisted of Archie San Romani, Dyrol Burleson, Vic Reeve, and Keith Forman with a time of 16:08.9. Among athletes that Bowerman coached are: Steve Prefontaine, Kenny Moore, Bill Dellinger, Mac Wilkins, Jack Hutchins, Dyrol Burleson, Harry Jerome, Siegmar Ohlemann, Les Tipton, Gerry Moro, Wade Bell, Dave Edstrom, Roscoe Divine, Jim Grelle, Bruce Mortenson and Phil Knight.

In 1972, Bowerman stepped back from day-to-day coaching activities to spearhead fundraising for renovating the Hayward Field grandstands that would be necessary for the consideration of hosting the Montreal Olympic Trials. He also ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Oregon Legislative Assembly in 1970 as a Republican, losing by only 1000 votes in a close race.[2] According to the Eugene Register-Guard newspaper, Bowerman officially retired as the University of Oregon head coach on March 23, 1973. Assistant coach Bill Dellinger officially took over the reins.

United States Olympic Track program

Bowerman created a training program for adjusting athletes for the high altitude that they would experience at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. This successful program led to his selection as the 1972 Munich Olympic Track and Field head coaching position. Bowerman coached members of teams from Norway, Canada, Australia, and the United States.

Bowerman is a member of the National Distance Running Hall of Fame, the USA National Track and Field Hall of Fame, the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame, and Oregon’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

His statue, holding a stopwatch, graces the northwest corner of Hayward Field, home of the Prefontaine Classic at the University of Oregon


During a trip to New Zealand in 1962, Bowerman was introduced to the concept of jogging as a fitness routine through a jogging club organized by his friend and coaching colleague Arthur Lydiard. Bowerman brought this concept back to the United States, and began to write articles and books about jogging. He also created a jogging program in Eugene that became a national model for fitness programs. A Jogger’s Manual, a three-page guide, was published shortly after Bowerman returned from New Zealand. In 1966, along with cardiologist W.E. Harris, Bowerman published a 90-page book entitled Jogging. The book sold over a million copies and was credited with igniting the jogging phenomenon in the United States. Due to the popularity of Jogging, Harris and Bowerman published a 127-page book in 1967. To this day, jogging remains a popular form of exercise for men and women of all ages.


In 1964, Bowerman entered into a handshake agreement with Phil Knight, who had been a miler under him in the 1950s, to start an athletic footwear distribution company called Blue Ribbon Sports, later known as Nike, Inc.. Knight managed the business end of the partnership, while Bowerman experimented with improvements in athletic footwear design.

Bowerman's design ideas led to the creation of a running shoe in 1966 that would ultimately be named "Cortez" in 1968, which quickly became a top-seller and remains one of Nike's most iconic footwear designs. Bowerman designed several Nike shoes, but is best known for ruining his wife's waffle iron in 1970 or 1971, experimenting with the idea of using waffle-ironed rubber to create a new sole for footwear that would grip but be lightweight. Bowerman's design inspiration led to the introduction of the so-called "Moon Shoe" in 1972, so named because the waffle tread was said to resemble the footprints left by astronauts on the moon. Further refinement resulted in the "Waffle Trainer" in 1974, which helped fuel the explosive growth of Blue Ribbon Sports/Nike.

Bowerman's obsession with shaving weight off his athletes' running shoes was legendary. He believed that custom-made shoes would weigh less on the feet of his runners and cut down on blisters, as well as reduce the overall drag on their energy for every ounce he could remove from the shoe.

Today, the headquarters for Nike is located on Bowerman Drive in homage to the company's co-founder.

On December 24, 1999, Bowerman died at his home in Fossil, Oregon at the age of 88.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Bill Gallagher (June, 2006). "Bowerman: The man, the legend and the new biography by Kenny Moore". Brainstorm NW. 
  3. ^ Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, author Kenny Moore
  4. ^ Moore, p. 67-68
  5. ^ Moore, p. 71
  6. ^ Moore, p. 77
  7. ^ Moore, p. 78-79
  8. ^ Moore, p. 81

Further reading

  • Moore, Kenny (2006). Bowerman and the Men of Oregon. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale. ISBN 978-1594861901. 
  • Bowerman, William J (1991). High-performance training for track and field. Champaign, Ill.: Leisure Press. ISBN 0880113901. 
  • Freeman, William H. (1972). A biographical study of William Jay Bowerman. 
  • Greenberg, Keith (1994). Bill Bowerman & Phil Knight: Building the Nike Empire. Blackbirch Press. ISBN 978-1567110852. 

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Bill Bowerman (February 19, 1911 – December 24, 1999) William J. Bowerman was an American track and field coach and businessman. He spent his entire career as a head coach at the University of Oregon. At Oregon, between 1949 and 1972, Bowerman coached Nike founder Phil Knight as well as Kenny Moore, Bill Dellinger, Mac Wilkins, and a young Steve Prefontaine. He guided the Ducks to four NCAA team titles. Bowerman was also known for crafting his own sneakers on a waffle iron. His theory was custom-made sneakers would weigh less on the feet of his runners and cut down on blisters. With Phil Knight, Bowerman parlayed his waffle-soled sneaker into Nike Inc. which was founded in 1964. After his retirement from Oregon, Bowerman coached the 1972 United States Olympic team in Munich. He was replaced as head coach at Oregon by former pupil Bill Dellinger.

Simple English

William "Bill" J. Bowerman
Born February 19 1911
Portland, Oregon, U.S.
Died December 24 1999
Occupation Track and field coach, co-founder of Nike, Inc.
Children Three

Bill Bowerman (February 19, 1911 - December 24, 1999) was an American track and field coach at the University of Oregon. Bowerman was born in Portland, Oregon.[1] He went to high school in Medford, Oregon. After high school, he was a student at the University of Oregon where he played football and ran track and field.

Military career

Bowerman joined the United States Army after the Pearl Harbor attack. He was part of the 10th Mountain Division of the army.[2] Bowerman's job was to organize the supplies that the soldiers needed. He received the rank of Major during World War II.[3] Bowerman was given four Bronze Stars, a Good Conduct Medal, and a Silver Star. He was honorably discharged in October 1945.[4]

Coaching career

After the war, Bowerman coached track and field at the University of Oregon. He did this for twenty-four years. His teams won four national championships in the NCAA while he was a coach. Some of his most famous athletes were Steve Prefontaine, Kenny Moore, Mac Wilkins, and Phil Knight. Bowerman also coached the United States Olympics team at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany.

He wrote a book that first taught Americans about jogging. With Phil Knight, he started the Nike company. Bowerman helped design many of the first shoes that the company sold. He died on Christmas Eve in 1999 at the age of 88.


  1. Bill Gallagher (June, 2006). "Bowerman: The man, the legend and the new biography by Kenny Moore". Brainstorm NW. 
  2. Moore, p. 67-68
  3. Moore, p. 77
  4. Moore, p. 81
  • Moore, Kenny (2006). Bowerman and the Men of Oregon. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale. ISBN 978-1594861901. 


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