Bill Bowerman was a long time track coach at the University of Oregon. Bowerman coached numerous Olympic and world champions and he is regarded as one of the finest track coaches in the history of the sport. Renowned as a master tactician, Bowerman was the head coach of the United States Olympic track team at the 1972 Olympics, and among his runners at Oregon was the legendary American middle distance runner Steve Prefontaine.
Bowerman had been sufficiently distressed by the quality of running shoes available to his track athletes in the late 1950s that he made some of their shoes himself. The first of his runners to try a pair of Bowerman's shoes was Phil Knight, a miler on the Oregon team. In the early 1960s Bowerman subsequently formed a partnership with Knight, to manufacture and market running shoes of their own design. The Knight/Bowerman partnership later became Nike, a company that ultimately became the most successful sports shoe and apparel company in the world.
Bowerman used his coaching experience and his knowledge of running to advance a number of innovations in running shoe technology. In 1972, using a combination of latex rubber, leather, and glue, Bowerman created a lightweight outsole for distance running shoes through the use of his wife's waffle iron, creating the now famous Nike waffle sole. This sole, with the squares created by the waffle pattern, provided greater traction to runners on any surface, particularly a wet roadway.
Bowerman also contributed to the development of the wedge heel used in Nike running shoes to create greater cushioning and stability. Bowerman also assisted in the design of both the first cushioned insoles, as well as the now standard lightweight nylon upper, the top portion of the shoe in which the foot is laced and secured. Prior to these innovations, most running shoe uppers were manufactured from canvas, other heavier synthetic materials, or leather.
In a separate technological advance, Bowerman is credited with being the first coach to advocate the rubberizing of the asphalt runways used at tracks for events such as the long jump and the pole vault, making the surface more absorbent and safer for the athletes.