Moore adds Hall of Fame to his story
Kenny Moore was such a creative sportswriter, it's easy to forget he was once an outstanding distance runner.
Voters for the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame didn't forget. They've selected the former University of Oregon great and two-time Olympian for induction Sept. 24 at the Multnomah Athletic Club.
I remember Moore more for his brilliant writing career at Sports Illustrated from 1971-95 than for his time running for the Ducks. To be so good at two such endeavors must be doubly fulfilling.
Moore, 75, will be flying in from his Kailua, Hawaii, for the ceremony.
"I love it," he said. "I'm more emotional about it than I thought I'd be.
"It's not the most natural thing for me. I was a kid out of North Eugene High who had no talent in the beginning. It didn't seem like the odds were that this would happen."
At Oregon, Moore was a three-time All-American who was a member of back-to-back NCAA championship teams in 1964 and '65. It didn't start out that way.
"Some of it was late maturing," Moore said. "Though I had good coaching at North Eugene (from Bob Newland), I never won a race in high school. My senior year, I got down to 4:23 in the mile and finished fourth at state."
But Moore kept getting better under the watch of the great Bill Bowerman at Oregon, whose legend as a coach expanded when he became co-founder of the company that became Nike.
"I accepted the eccentricity of him, and that made all the difference," Moore said. "Our relationship never changed. He was fun, and we connected in a lot of ways — scholarly interests and things — but he was always my coach. The lessons were there long after he died."
The longer the distance, the better the runner was Moore, who began to push the envelope in college.
"My roommate (at Oregon), Bruce Mortenson, and I would try to go as far as we could on runs," Moore said. "My sophomore year, we started making 30-mile runs. The coaches would say, 'This is not helping anything with NCAA racing (the longest track race at the time was three miles),' but we just kept on doing it. Bowerman was fascinated that we could develop that kind of strength. My junior year, he organized a marathon time trial in his neighborhood."
Moore ran the marathon in 2 hours, 25 minutes that year but eventually got down to 2:11:36 at age 27 in 1970. By that time, he'd run one Olympic marathon — finishing 14th at Mexico City in 1968 — and was bound to place fourth in a second at Munich in 1972.
The two Olympic experiences were polar opposite. In Mexico City, the trainer of the U.S. team talked him into using an experimental tape on his feet.
"It absorbed over my toes and rolled into ridges of fire," Moore said. The blisters were so bad, "I had to stop, take off my shoes, rip off the tape and continue. It cost me nearly five minutes, and I ran on bloody feet the rest of the way. I ran 2:29 and should have been around around 2:25. I'd have been in there for a bronze."
Munich, Germany, was devastated by the terrorist attacks of the Palestinian group "Black September," who killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team. Competition was suspended for a day and a half before the decision was made that the Games would go on. Frank Shorter of the United States won the marathon, followed by Belgium's Karel Lismont and Ethiopia's Mamo Wolde. Moore finished fourth in 2:15.39, 31 seconds away from a medal.
"There's a picture of me crying uncontrollably afterward," Moore said. But the tears were mostly for the emotion of the moment: "It was doing what we set out to do, to show that terror and horribleness and the wars of the world were combatable by our efforts."
American Jack Bachelor followed up in ninth, giving the U.S. the best top-three finish by any country in Olympic marathon history.
Said Moore: "That was proof that some of us were only made stronger by war."
Moore attended one year of law school at Stanford in 1966-67 before a change of course that swung his career path.
"I loved the professors at Stanford," he said, "but I loved more the idea of writing in a way that was not the classic legalese. I decided it was best to go back to Oregon and get my master's of fine arts and creative writing."
All the while, Moore was running, serving as national AAU cross country champion in 1967 and national AAU marathon champion in 1971. He also won the fabled Bay to Breakers 15k road race in San Francisco six years running from 1968-73.
"I'm very proud of that," he said. "Bowerman got me to be able to be perfectly relaxed on the downhill and let gravity do the work. There was something about my stride that was adaptable to that (in Bay to Breakers) because of the hills. I got so good at the downhill running that if I got near the halfway point anywhere near people, I knew I was going to win."
Moore's lengthy career at Sports Illustrated "was a wonderful gift from people who wanted to see the best writing there, the best things covered there."
His greatest writing achievement was his biography, "Bowerman and the Men of Oregon." It's an exhaustive 416-page tome that brings Moore's mentor to life and provides a comprehensive look at the man, the coach, the inventor and the legend. Anybody who likes good writing and storytelling should give it a read.
After his running career ended, Moore stayed connected to his sport, served as a director with the Oregon Track Club, a member of the athletes advisory council to the U.S. Olympic Committee and a member of the international committee of The Athletics Congress.
"Frank Shorter and I were really lucky," Moore said. "They paid attention to us in different ways."
Moore, who was inducted into the U of O Sports Hall of Fame in 1997, has lived in Hawaii since 1985. He and wife, Connie — a former rower at Oregon State — have been together 20 years.
Now they're coming back to their old stomping grounds for another salute.
"It's going to be fun to see so many old friends," Moore said. "I really am looking forward to it."
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