Nike Co-Founder Dies

Blondie band members from left to right, Clem Burke, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, backstage after being inducted at the tweny-first annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dinner in New York, Monday, March 13, 2006.
AP

Bill Bowerman, the Oregon track coach who co-founded Nike and pressed foam rubber into his wife's waffle iron to create the modern running shoe, has died. He was 88.

He died in his sleep Friday night or early Saturday in his home in Fossil, company spokesman Scott Reames said.

Bowerman helped introduce jogging to the masses with his book on the subject in 1967. He was also the U.S. track coach at the terrorist-scarred 1972 Munich Olympics.

He coached at Oregon from 1949-72, and his most famous runner there was Steve Prefontaine, the brash, mustachioed prodigy who inspired a generation of distance runners. Prefontaine died in a car crash in 1975.

Nike chairman Phil Knight was one of Bowerman's pupils and called him one of the great influences on his life. Together they formed what became a multibillion-dollar shoe and apparel company. Bowerman retired from the Nike board of directors this year.

"He was for so many of us a hero, leader and most of all teacher," Knight said. "My sadness at his passing is beyond words."

The company announced in October that a silhouette of Bowerman in his old Tyrolean hat would appear on Nike running shoes, along with a smaller "swoosh," the company's trademark symbol.

Knight, who trained under Bowerman in the late '50s and who was later a business student at Stanford, teamed with his old coach. Their operation evolved into Nike, named for the Greek goddess of victory.

Initially, each chipped in $500 and manufactured 330 pairs of the new waffle-designed shoe that they sold for $3.30 a pair. Bowerman's team wore the shoes. Athletes around the world began wearing them, followed by public.

Bowerman created the modern running shoe in the late 1960s by fashioning a lightweight sole with leather, glue, latex and his wife's waffle iron. He experimented with different cushions and layers of material to give his runners an edge.

Bowerman called the Munich Olympics the "worst experience I've had in my entire educational and athletic life." An attack left 11 Israeli athletes dead, along with five terrorists and a West German policeman.

Bowerman said he had been concerned at the outset about security in the Olympic village. The security, he said, was "boys and girls probably 15 to 18 years old in Bavarian mountain uniforms."

Bowerman coached 24 NCAA individual champions and four NCAA team champions in 1962, 1964, 1965 and 1970. In 16 of 24 years, his Oregon track team finished in the top 10 in NCAA championships.

He refused to take much credit for building Oregon into a national track power. He once said his predecessor, Bill Hayward, who coached from 1904-1947, took charge at the rain-drenched school, separating the "swimmers from the sunbathers."

Bowerman, who was born in Portland, is survived by his wife, Barbara, and sons, Jon Bowerman, Jay Bowerman and Tom Bowerman, and four granchildren.

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