Bill Bowerman Quotes in “Without Limits”

The most comprehensive collection of Bill Bowerman quotes from the movie “Without Limits.” Also includes Bill Bowerman’s speech in the movie (at Steve Prefontaine’s funeral). Bowerman was the track coach at the University of Oregon for 24 seasons, during which he coached running legend Steve Prefontaine.

Jump to:  Bowerman’s speech/eulogy  •  Citius. Altius. Fortius.  •  The meaning of running  •  War & Olympics speech  •  Bill & Barbara  •  Meeting at 7:27  •  Resistance to change  •  Asking permission  •  Human body’s limits

You might also enjoy my collection of Steve Prefontaine quotes from “Without Limits.”

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Citius. Altius. Fortius. (Faster. Higher. Stronger.)

“Citius. Altius. Fortius. It means Faster. Higher. Stronger. It’s been the motto for the Olympics for the last 2500 years. But it doesn’t mean faster, higher and stronger than who you are competing against. Just Faster. Higher. Stronger.

One runner brought this home to me. From the beginning, I tried to change him. And from the beginning, he tried not to change. That was our relationship, and even that never changed. He couldn’t stand a crowd. Always wanted to race out front, from the start, like he was trying to get away from something. Just where and when this compulsion came from, no one can say for sure so like Plato and his tale of the world’s creation, I will not say absolutely. This is the truth. But I will say, it is a likely story.”
– Bill Bowerman

Bill Bowerman’s war & Olympics speech

“This killing of Israel athletes is an act of war. And if there’s one place that war doesn’t belong, it’s here. 1200 years. From 776 B.C. to 393 A.D., your fellow Olympians laid down their arms to take part in these games. They understood there was more honor in out running a man than in killing him. I hope the competition will resume, and if it does, you must not think that running… or throwing… or jumping… is frivelous. The games were once your fellow Olympians answer to war – competition, not conquest. Now, they must be your answer.
– Bill Bowerman

Bowerman’s speech on the meaning of running

“Men of Oregon, I invite you to become students of your events. Running, one might say, is basically an absurd past-time upon which to be exhausting ourselves. But if you can find meaning, in the kind of running you have to do to stay on this team, chances are you will be able to find meaning in another absurd past-time: life.”
– Bill Bowerman

Bowerman calls a meeting at 7:27

“7:27 provokes the question, ‘Why 7:27?’ and everybody gets here at 7:27 to find out why.”
– Bill Bowerman

Bowerman on relationships

Steve Prefontaine: I’d like to ask you something.
Bill Bowerman: OK.
Pre: It’s personal.
Bill: Sit down.
Pre: How do you and Barbara–uh–how do you and Barbara–I mean, uh, you uh, you pretty much believe in the same things?
Bill: Pre, I have no idea. The woman’s a complete mystery to me.
Pre: Well, how do you get along so well?
Bill: I don’t have to know what she believes in. I believe in her.

Bill Bowerman’s speech at Prefontaine’s funeral

You can read the full eulogy here (includes Frank Shorter). Below is Bowerman’s speech.

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“All of my life – man and boy – I’ve operated under the assumption that the main idea in running was to win the damn race. Actually, when I became a coach I tried to teach people how to do that. I tried to teach Pre how to do that. I tried like Hell to teach Pre to do that… and Pre taught me – taught me I was wrong.

Pre, you see, was troubled by knowing that a mediocre effort could win a race, and a magnificent effort can lose one. Winning a race wouldn’t necessarily demand that he give it everything he had from start to finish. He never ran any other way. I tried to get him to. God knows I tried.

But Pre was stubborn. He insisted on holding himself to a higher standard than victory.

A race is a work of art. That’s what he said. That’s what he believed. And he was out to make it one every step of the way.

Of course, he wanted to win. Those who saw him compete and those who competed against him were never in any doubt about how much he wanted to win. But how he won mattered to him more.

Pre thought I was a hard case. But he finally got it through my head that the real purpose of running isn’t to win a race. It’s to test the limits of the human heart. And that he did. Nobody did it more often. Nobody did it better.

[And we stopped the clock at 12 minutes and 36 seconds – a world record time – with which Steve Prefontaine would have been well satisfied.]”

Bowerman on asking permission

“It’s easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission.”
– Bill Bowerman

Bill Bowerman on resistance to change

Bill Bowerman: Pretentious little rube, isn’t he?
Steve Prefontaine: Ya fuck. I can’t believe you would sit back there, not say anything, and then be that dismissive about this.
Bill: I’ve been battling those freeloaders all your life and then so, Pre, and guess what? You and the AAU have a lot in common.
Pre: Bullshit. In what way?
Bill: Resistance to change. They don’t want to stop shitting on you any more than you want to change the way you run, because it hurts to change, doesn’t it, Pre?
Pre: I wouldn’t know.
Bill: Doesn’t it hurt to change?

Bowerman on the human body’s limits

Bill Bowerman: You know the greatest race I ever saw you run? Munich. I was never prouder of anything than the effort you made that day. You couldn’t have done more than you did.
Steve Prefontaine: Bil–
Bill: Rube. You won the trials in 13:22, five seconds faster than Viren at Munich. That would’ve beaten him by 30 yards. It’s hard to believe you never even thought about it.
Pre: OK. So, um, if I had gone out faster, I wouldn’t have gotten boxed. Then I might have–
Bill: Then blame me.
Pre: Do you blame yourself?
Bill: That’s a constant, Pre. At your level of competition anyone can win on any given day, and not necessarily the best man. Losing a race isn’t your problem, Pre. Front running isn’t your problem.
Pre: OK. So what’s my problem, Bill.
Bill: Vanity.
Pre: Vanity?
Bill: Your insistance that you have no talent is the ultimate vanity. If you have no talent, you have no limits. It’s all an act of will, right Pre?
Pre: I couldn’t do what I thought I could. Can we just leave it at that?
Bill: I got news for you. All the will and hard work in the world isn’t going to get one person in a million to run a 3:54 mile. That takes talent. And talent in a runner is tied to very specific physical attributes. Your heart can probably pump more blood than anyone else’s on this planet, and that’s the fuel for your talent. Your bones in your feet – it’d take a sledgehammer to hurt them. And that’s the foundation of your talent. So your talent, Pre, is not some disembodied act of will, it’s literally in your bones, so it’s got its limits. Be thankful for your limits, Pre, they’re about as limitless as they get in this life. Goodnight.
Pre: Just a minute… Bill, just a fucking minute. Do you… Do you really believe you know everything there is to know about me? Does it ever occur to you that I might know something about myself that you don’t? You vain, inflexible, son-of-a-bitch. You don’t know me any better than you know yourself. And you’re never going to change you, Bill.

Bowerman on competing against one’s self

“Now to explore the limits of the one competitor above everyone else you’ve always loved to face: Steve Prefontaine.”
– Bill Bowerman

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