Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bowerman And The Men Of Oregon

I'm reading Bowerman And The Men Of Oregon, a biography of one of the founders of Nike and a highly influential athletics coach, who I'd only heard of before as the man who invented waffle soles for training shoes. Oh, and has some shoes named after him.

Reading the book and finding out how many Olympic track competitors he trained, I find myself constantly surprised. Surprised I'd never heard of Bowerman, given how much I've been running, surprised that even in the 1960s there was still very little idea of how you train people to run fast, and surprised that Bowerman could urinate on his athletes in the shower and it's not even dismissed as "one of those things" by the author. If one of my PE teachers had tried peeing on us in the shower, he'd have got what for. I suppose the 1960s were innocent times, when watersports were things like sailing and rowing.

So that's a distraction, at best. I suppose to get the best results from training, you have to be monomaniacal. The trouble is, young men aren't particularly focussed, so somebody has to impose discipline on them, and the sort of extremes you need to extract Olympic performances from them are close to cruelty, the demonstration of the coach's will over the individual runner, again and again, until they're driven to succeed.

Whether that's abuse or not is sometimes difficult to tell; in a year where Penn State's molester seemed to constantly be in the news, it's difficult to read about Bowerman without twinges of worry. It would be a shame if all the achievements of his life were obliterated, but I'm not properly equipped to judge whether there was something malign going on or if this was just hazing to bind the athletes together. It's strange to read it so matter-of-factly though.

I went for a run this evening. I had nobody to pee on me in the shower afterwards, or brand me with a hot key, or lie in my bed to surprise me when I got in. I'm also not capable of running a mile in 5 minutes.


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