Steve Bence was a teammate of the late Steve Prefontaine, and key player in the rise of the Nike brand, under the watchful eye of Phil Knight, whom he met in college. Jeff Benjamin has reviewed his Memoir: Steve Bence, 1972.
Steve Bence’s Book 1972 -A Review By Jeff Benjamin
To say that Steve Bence’s life has been a transformational one is an understatement.
The University of Oregon walk-on, who rose to compete at a high level for coaches Bill Bowerman and Bill Dellinger would envision a post-collegiate career as a teacher. Yet he would then be transformed once again into joining Nike where, through the guidance of top employees, notably Phil Knight, would compete at the highest level once again, helping to be one of the key cogs in the Swoosh machine for over 40 years.
Through Bob Welch, Bence has penned his experiences in a dynamic autobiography “1972, Pre, Nike shoes and my life with them all.”
A self-proclaimed “Air Force brat”, Bence joined the Oregon Ducks at a unique time in their history. Amazingly encountering coaches Bowerman, Dellinger, Steve Prefontaine, and Jim Ryun (“My idol!”) on his first day at UO, Bence would take a photo of the group in the athletic office, barely noticing the quiet fellow in the background who he wondered at the time was just as awestruck being there as he was.
“I’d just met my new coach, a three-time Olympian, and perhaps the two finest distance runners, Pre and Ryun. In-Person!”
“The irony was that it was the obscure other guy in that gathering – Knight – who would change my life. Forever.”
Prior to that transformation, Bence would rise to become a top runner at Oregon, who also became close with Pre and many others of the era. Bence’s anecdotes on his races, other runners, and his coaches are not only a trip down memory lane for older fans but also replete with new insights with motivational components which are very interesting and riveting.
Of course, Bence’s stories about Prefontaine are one of the magnetic parts readers will be drawn to. From his beginning encounters, through a growing relationship, his tragic death as well as being involved in the Warner Brothers film “Without Limits”, Prefontaine is a major focal point for Bence and in his devoted writing style, it’s not hard to see why. It is also worthy to note that Bence’s beginning relationship with his wife Mary would also become one of the anchors of the book as well.
After college, Bence would look to become a teacher but, to his mother’s great surprise, he applied and accepted a job with Nike.
“Steve, you’ve got to let go of athletics now that you’re out of college. What am I going to tell my friends? ‘My son went through college so he could sell athletic shoes!’ Please, can’t you find a company that furnishes a product that everyone will buy?”
Unbeknownst to his mother and probably many others at the time, that was precisely what Bence intended to do, as he would become THE key manufacturing guru on a all the levels of the company for 4 decades, using that same drive and desire from his competitive Oregon days inspired by Bowerman and Dellinger and later nurtured by Knight.
Part UO track history, part Nike history, Steve Bence has interwoven both key chapters of his life into a thoroughly enjoyable autobiographical read, replete with photos as well.
At Steve Prefontaine’s last track meet in 1975 before his tragic death, Bence, who had a wired-up broken jaw yet came to run the 880, felt Prefontaine’s hand on his shoulder, shown in a photo snapped by Sports Illustrated.
“I don’t think I could do what you’re doing,” said Pre, looking at my wired-shut mouth, “so why not make it worthwhile?”
In all facets, Steve Bence certainly has.
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