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Arts & Culture

OREGON EXPERIENCE: Bill Bowerman

OPB | Jan. 22, 2007 9:41 p.m. | Updated: Dec. 5, 2013 11:15 a.m.

“Victory is in having done your best. If you’ve done your best, you’ve won.” 
- Bill Bowerman

Bill Bowerman is considered one of the greatest track coaches the world has ever known. In his 24 years at the University of Oregon he won four NCAA team championships and coached 33 Olympians, 16 sub-four minute milers and 64 All-Americans. Using archival materials and interviews with family and former students, the next episode of “Oregon Experience” looks at the remarkable life of this legendary coach and co-founder of NIKE and how he taught his students much more than track. Tune in to the stations of Oregon Public Broadcasting on Monday, February 12 at 9pm.

Bowerman was an Oregon original, steeped in pioneer stock. In 1845, his great grandparents traveled the Oregon Trail and later settled and named the town of Fossil for the petrified elephant and camel bones they found in a nearby landslide.

Rebellious as a child, Bowerman was kicked out of Medford High School for fighting. But after a humiliating lecture by the superintendent of schools, the young Bowerman turned his life around becoming a star athlete and student.

At the University of Oregon, he played football and was on the legendary coach Bill Hayward’s track team. He graduated in 1934 and planned to become a doctor, but lacking money for medical school, he found his niche in coaching.

During World War II, Major Bowerman served in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Italy and returned to Medford a decorated hero. In 1948, his alma mater recruited him back to Eugene to replace the retiring Bill Hayward as head track coach.

Bowerman called himself a teacher. He built his coaching career around his belief that all athletes were individuals and individuals learned differently. A master of tactics and technique, he concentrated on helping each athlete train to peak performance both physically and psychologically by tailoring individual workout schedules and by experimenting with everything from recipes for sports drinks to lighter weight uniforms.

Obsessed with the amount of weight his athletes carried, Bowerman wanted to build a lighter-weight racing shoe. After taking lessons from the local shoemaker, he began cobbling custom-made shoes for his runners including half miler, Phil Knight, one of the first to wear them in the late 1950s.  

In the early 1960s, Knight and Bowerman teamed up again to co-found an athletic shoe distribution company — Blue Ribbon Sports — which would eventually become NIKE, Inc., the largest athletic shoe and apparel company in the world.

About OREGON EXPERIENCE
OREGON EXPERIENCE is an exciting new history series on OPB-TV that brings to life fascinating stories that help us understand who we are and that reinforce our shared identity as Oregonians. The series, co-produced by the Oregon Historical Society and Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), takes advantage of the extensive film, video and stills from the archives of OHS and OPB, and draws upon the expertise of OHS researchers and historians. Each half-hour show features captivating characters — both familiar and forgotten — who have played key roles in building our state into the unique place we call home.

Funding for OREGON EXPERIENCE is provided in part by Ann & Bill Swindells Charitable Trust, James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, Robert C. and Nani S. Warren Foundation and Oregon Cultural Trust.

About OPB
OPB is the state’s most far-reaching and accessible media resource, providing free access to programming for children and adults designed to give voice to community, connect Oregon and its neighbors and illuminate a wider world. Every week, over 1.5 million people tune in to or log on to OPB’s Television, Radio and Internet delivered services. As the hub of operations for the state’s Emergency Broadcast and Amber Alert services, OPB serves as the backbone for the distribution of critical information to broadcasters and homes throughout Oregon. Oregon Public Broadcasting is a statewide network that includes OPB Television, an affiliate of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and OPB Radio, presenting local news coverage and the programs of National Public Radio (NPR), Public Radio International (PRI) and American Public Media (APM). The OPB Web site is opb.org.

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