It was 1964 and I was at the athletes training track inside the Olympic Village at the Tokyo Olympics, watching some legendary track stars train. I started a conversation with the USA Olympic coach who gave me his business card, and it was a very interesting and historic chat.
At the time there were two major athletic shoe brands, both German from the same small Franconian Bavarian town of Herzogenaurach with HQs either side of the Aurach river, and founded by rival brothers Adi Dassler and Rudolph Dassler- ADIDAS and PUMA. The coach showed me a pair of very light Japanese Onitsuka Tiger shoes which he was excited about due to their light weight and cheap wholesale cost. He said that he had bought a large shipment and was going to take them back to Oregon and sell them at track meets in the North West.
His name was BILL BOWERMAN, born in Portland, OR in 1911 and son of a former governor Jay Bowerman. He and one of his former athletes at University of Oregan called Phil Knight had just formed a small company, Blue Ribbon Sports, to sell shoes out of the back of a station wagon at track meets and for 24 years he would be Track and Field coach at University of Oregon in Eugene, producing 33 Olympians and 64 All Americans. After visiting Finland he got excited by jogging and wrote a book 'Jogging' which sold over a million copies.
THE REST IS HISTORY. I was travelling around the world hitch hiking via Scandinavia and then the Trans-Siberian Railway and a three day ferry to Yokohama. I had many British college friends on the Great Britain team. Both Adidas and Puma had free shoe stores in the village. I registered as Team GB's third string triple jumper and got my free pairs.
I also managed to hitch hike across the Pacific to Seattle the day after the Games ended on one of the two US Olympic team's NorthWest Orient Airlines charter flights. (The other went to San Francisco). Due to the International Date Line I arrived on a Monday morning, gaining a day, only knowing that I was going to America on the Monday afternoon!!!
Bowerman returned to Eugene to coach The Ducks and later changed the company name to NIKE in May 1978 . He used his wife's waffle iron to design a lightweight sole with a grip while his partner Knight took care of sales. He was a great innovator and kept shaving ounces off his shoes.
One of Bowerman's famous long distance runners was Steve Prefontaine, 'The James Dean of Track' with his record breaking and long, flowing hair. He was a legend who later died in an auto accident age 24 in 1975 after his orange MGB Convertible flipped over, and has a famous track meet named after him. If you go to the World Headquarters of NIKE in Portland, Oregon you enter the main entrance on BILL BOWERMAN DRIVE.
As a Major in the War in the US Army he accepted the surrender of the Germans near the Brenner Pass, days before the surrender of all the German Forces in Italy days later. He died in his sleep at age 88 on Christmas Eve 1999. In the North West corner of Hayward Field, the track stadium at Oregon. and home of The Ducks and the PRE CLASSIC, is a statue of the great coach, holding a stop watch.
I hitch hiked via California, covering The Rose Bowl Football Classic and Rose Parade in Pasedena: Oregon v Michigan State, then via San Diego, Calexico, Tucson, New Mexico, Acapulco, Mexico City, Laredo, San Angelo, Dallas, Memphis, New York, Iceland, Glasgow and back to England.