Probably no one has ever created an impact as strong as what Bill Bowerman created on the sprinting world. Bowerman unappreciated the fact of being called a coach, and in the course of his 24 years at the University of Oregon, the Ducks track and field team was victorious every year but once, achieved 4 NCAA titles and competed in the top 10 in the nation sixteen times.
His constant hunt for a better running shoe symbolizes Bowerman’s development to be analogous to quality, success, and innovation As the co-founder of Nike, he created some of their top brands, namely the Cortez and Waffle Racer, and supported the company to progress from a distributor of other shoe brands to producing their own shoes in the house. Bowerman believes that “If there are limits to what we can do, I don’t know what they are.” For several years, millions of people, right from joggers to Olympians, enjoyed the benefits of his revolutionary essence.
Bowerman was born in Portland, Oregon, in February in the year 1911. Bill’s siblings include a sister and two older brothers. His twin brother passed away tragically in an accident when he was only two. Later, Bowerman joined Medford High School where he played football and became a member of the high school band. After completing his graduation in the year 1929, he studied journalism and also continued pursuing his football career at the University of Oregon. His track and field coach Bill Hayward’s recommendation led him to join the track team which influenced an everlasting association with running. Bowerman then shifted to Portland in 1934 to be a biology instructor and to coach football. He also played his part as a social servant by discontinuing his career and joining the United States Army when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. After the end of the second World War, Bowerman resumed his journey of football coaching at Medford High School. Later in 1948, Bowerman returned to the University of Oregon, his alma mater in Eugene and after a year, he took over the position of head coach of the track team.
Being a track and field coach, Bowerman was aware of the running shoes available to runners. He was not pleased with the footwear companies offered, and wrote to several companies, suggesting on how to make them lighter and hence upgrade runners’ times. Since none of the companies replied, Bowerman himself started out to acquire knowledge of the shoe trade. He inspected running shoes apart to observe how they were manufactured.. Customization of shoes to individual sizes and details, Bowerman made shoes for many track runners, which included student-athlete Phil Knight, Olympic track star Otis Davis, and John Mays. As he carried out his experimentations, he took into consideration the opinions and feedback from his runners, reflecting on the fact that “a teacher is never too smart to learn from his pupils.” In spite of the American companies constantly turning down his prototypes, Bowerman didn’t give up. His advancement finally came to light through the Japanese footwear company Onitsuka Tiger.
After attaining graduation from the University of Oregon and pursuing his MBA from Stanford University, Phil Knight figured that the Japanese companies were about to invade the US market for running shoes. This motivated Bowerman and Knight to partner together and launch Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964, to ship in and sell Onitsuka Tiger shoes(TG 22).
Later, Bowerman designed a shoe with soft sponge rubber in the heel and forefoot, a cushioned inner sole, and a firm rubber outsole to rectify the problem of TG 22 which had no arch support. When it was sent to Onitsuka for production, Onitsuka altered the design of its early models. Finally, Onitsuka debuted Tiger Cortez, a shoe that entailed Bowerman’s original creation of a full-length midsole. As Blue Ribbon Sports progressed into the shoe brand now called Nike, the Cortez transformed into the Nike Cortez. Through this invention, Bowerman received a patent because of its revolutionizing cushioned midsole, which decreased the strain on the Achilles tendon, reduced leg fatigue, and absorb road shock.
His aim of making lighter shoes didn’t stop Bowerman and he kept playing around with shoe designs. After the Cortez, he diverted his attention to designing a spike-less shoe that provided outstanding grip on different surfaces. One day in 1970 while eating waffles for breakfast, he pondered on what would happen if the chunks on the waffle were flipped. Inspired by this Bowerman designed a sole with a raised grid pattern which was lightweight, springy, and had a good grip.
The shoes engraved a prominent mark on the ground, similar to the footprints left by Apollo astronauts on the moon, from which arises the name “Moon Shoe.” Bowerman matched the waffle sole with nylon uppers he imported from Japan. He released the Moon Shoe at the Olympic Trials in 1972 which took place in Eugene. Participants were impressed by the traction and the texture of the shoe, and after development, the design accelerated the inception of the “Waffle Trainer” in 1974.
The first major success for Nike was through the debut of the waffle racer in 1974 which played a crucial role in launching the company as a vital player in the athletic footwear field. Bowerman enrolled eight patents in shoe design, which included a cushioned spike plate, a straight last, an external heel counter, and cleated shoes designed for the unnatural lawn.
The Nike Swoosh is globally popular, partly because the company has constantly emerged as a highflier of innovation. Nike extended its running base by including shoes for cheerleading, skateboarding, baseball, and other leisure activities. Many sports stars and athletes have gained victory wearing Nike shoes. The custom of its co-founders Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight is still followed today.
Coach Bill Bowerman died on December 24, in the year 1999 when he was 88 years old. His lasting connection with running left an unforgettable spark. As a part of the States National Track and Field Hall of Fame, National Distance Running Hall of Fame, and the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame, he will always reside in people’s memories as a pioneer of support and a change maker in shaping the community.
Bowerman is famous for his success as an American track coach and his innovative footwear designs. Every year, the most marvelous collegiate male and female track and field athlete is awarded “The Bowerman” by the US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. Bowerman’s legacy is lived through his innovative work, impactful training, and the influence he had on the running world.