This story has been reposted on May 27, 2016. I wanted people to remember one of the prime reasons that the Pre Classic is around was because of my late friend, Geoff Hollister. A man of much complexity, Geoff Hollister loved his family, friends and his brand, Nike. The Friday Night at Hayward is here in honor of this guy, who fought every day of his nearly 40 years at Nike for the importance of his brand's core, or as Mark Parker, CEO of Nike calls it, "Nike's DNA is running."
The Pre Classic and Friday night at Hayward Field are the yearly affirmations of Nike's beginnings and Nike's DNA: athletics. Helping people run, jump and throw with some form and function. For much of that, we need to take a moment and think of Geoff Hollister, reminding me that Bill Bowerman did not like the word 'Coach', among other things.
I miss our friend.
Hollister, who took his degree in art from the University of Oregon, was, along with his friend, Nelson Ferris, the keeper of history of the company with the swoosh. Much of that history, Hollister was involved with personally.
Starting in 1967, Hollister sold running shoes out of the back of his car at track and cross country meets. Hollister's interview with Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike (with Bill Bowerman), is that of legend. Knight offered Hollister a job, commission only, over lunch at the Dairy Queen then on U of Oregon campus. Hollister had run the steeple while at Oregon, Knight, a decade older than Hollister, had run the mile. Only one issue, Knight had forgotten his wallet, so Geoff paid for lunch.
In 1968, Geoff founded the BRS West store, in Eugene, Oregon. He then served three years in the US Navy, on the USS Guadalupe, as a navigator. Goeff returned in 1971 to BRS, when it was at a crisis point.
Phil Knight & Bill Bowerman were in a epic struggle with Onitsuka Tiger, and the little BRS was faced with the challenge that many small companies have-financing. Knight was able to develop a financing arrangement with Nissho Iwaii, which allowed Knight the capital to develop their own product and break away from Onitsuka Tiger. (There was a lawsuit between the two, which Knight & Bowerman won).
Hollister was one of the people who got Bill Bowerman. He understood, that beneath the curmudgeoness, was a brilliant educator, who, with all of his foibles, was a hell of a track coach, and businessman. "Never, ever call Bill Bowerman a coach, he hated that word, " Geoff once told me. Hollister was the keeper of the flame.
Geoff Hollister was the Nike promotions department for the 1972 Olympic Trials, held in Eugene, Oregon. He gave out many of the Nike shoes to young American athletes, especially about three dozen members of the Olympic Trials marathon participants.
Hollister worked closely with the late Steve Prefontaine, and developed a strong friendship. It was coming home from a party at Geoff's home, after a Hayward Field Restoration meet, that Steve Prefontaine, who had been the promo guy for Nike, died. Hollister then took over Prefontaine's job of sending notes in boxes of Nike running shoes, to athletes across the world, asking them to try the new shoe brand.
Prefontaine's death in 1975 was tough for Hollister. Most had thought that Steve would be Nike's first Olympic medalist in 1976. It was not to be.
By 1976, Nike was established, but the brands such as adidas, PUMA and Onitsuka did not give Nike an easy time. Hollister did prepare running shoes for Frank Shorter, who had legendarily difficult feet, and while Geoff did prepare shoes for Shorter, it is a matter of some conjecture, to this day, whether Shorter actually wore those shoes.
Between 1976-1980, Geoff Hollister developed his promo team, and helped develop Athletics West, a club that provided not only running gear, massages, sports psychology and nutrition, but helped get the athletes ready to race in Europe so that they could be prepared for 1980. No one could have known that President Jimmy Carter, in reacting to Russia's involvement in Afghanistan, would boycott those Olympics.
It was in 1980, that Nike had its first Olympic medalists, none other than Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe. Geoff Hollister had brought Sebastian Coe and Bill Bowerman together in Eugene, during his build up to the Moscow Olympics.
Hollister had become the man who knew Nike's history, the man who protected the soul of Nike, the man who remembered what Steve Prefontaine was really like. Geoff took those roles seriously, and his love
for Nike was immense.
1984 was a watershed year for Nike. They were a global sports power by then, and the LA Olympics were tremendous, both good and rough. Joan Benoit Samuelson won the first women's Olympic gold medal. Sebastian Coe became the only man to defend 1,500m titles and also win consecutive silvers in the 800 meters. They also had the tragedy of Mary Slaney falling down in the 3,000m and not finishing. Nike had gone big time, and there was a bit of a let down after the 1984 Olympics.
From 1984 to 1996, Geoff Hollister was really the man behind the scenes, using his relationships to help athletes compete, get into better coaching relationships, and continued to show off the Nike brand. He always saw himself as a runner. And he looked at the world through the tinted glasses of an athlete. It was one of his best qualities.
Geoff Hollister & Nelson Ferris became the guys who protected Nike's legacy, probably in the 1990s. Geoff knew that Bill Bowerman was not getting any younger, and did a video with Arthur Lydiard and Bowerman,
which is said to be a classic.
As Nike became a bigger and bigger sports power, there were people who just did not get that Nike was founded by runners, and as basketball, soccer, baseball eclipsed some of the early track & field days, Geoff spung back into action, fighting to keep grass roots promotions going in the late 1990s. It was no mean task at the then $10 billion company.
Some of Geoff's longest lasting influences will be on grass roots promotions, his documentary film, " Fire on the Track" and his work on the film, "Prefontaine" kept the story of Steve Prefontaine alive. It also allowed there to be a recognition, perhaps a rekindling of concern for where running was to live in the Nike culture.
Hollister supported the development of several generations of grass roots promotion guys, some still at Nike, some in other companies, who realize, that it is still about getting a kid who just broke five minutes for the mile to see the newest shoe and dreaming about running a 4:55 mile, or long jumping twenty feet, or throwing the shot forty-five feet.
Geoff Hollister kept the soul of Nike alive. He was a complicated man, who was quick to tell us a story, and to talk about his family, and also quick to make sure that the legacy of Nike was remembered. He was not in it for the bucks. He loved his sport and the people involved.
While Geoff retired in 2002, he consulted for Nike for several years after that. His friends were lucky to have updates from his wife, Wendy, who cared for him with love and concern. Geoff had three children, his son Tracy, daughter Kaili and step daughter, Abi .
Over the weekend, Galen Rupp, AR holder in the 10,000m, a man coached by Alberto Salazar, who was signed to Nike by Geoff Hollister, told the media at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, that Mo Farah , Galen and Ciaran O'Lionaird (winner of the mile), would be wearing GHAC gear in honor of Geoff. Geoff would have liked that....
Please keep Geoff, his wife Wendy, and their family in your thoughts and prayers.
And, what would make Geoff most happy? Go, take a walk or run, and consider how lucky you are, on this small planet.
Here is an article on Geoff Hollister, from OregonLive.com: