Kenny Moore: “Olympic runner who used his understanding of athletes to become a pre-eminent track writer”

From a New York Times obit by Richard Sandomir headlined “Kenny Moore, Marathoner and Track Writer, Dies at 78”:

Kenny Moore, a two-time Olympic marathon runner who used his deep understanding of athletes to become a pre-eminent track writer at Sports Illustrated for nearly 25 years, died at his home in Kailua, Hawaii.

His brother, Bob, confirmed the death. He did not know the cause but said that Mr. Moore had physically wasted away.

Before his writing career began, Mr. Moore figured in footwear history: He is believed to have been the first test subject of running shoe prototypes designed in 1965 by Bill Bowerman, his coach at the University of Oregon, who had already founded Blue Ribbon Sports, which would become Nike, with Philip Knight.

“I had the privilege of becoming a better runner every time I put a new prototype on,” Mr. Moore told a Nike blog in 2017.

Decades later, he wrote “Bowerman and the Men of Oregon: The Story of Oregon’s Legendary Coach and Nike’s Cofounder” (2006).

Mr. Moore began working for Sports Illustrated in 1971 while he was still a competitive runner. Over the next 24 years, he wrote stylish, deeply-informed articles about sprinters, middle-distance runners, marathoners, pole-vaulters and decathletes.

“He wasn’t a writer of devices,” Peter Carry, a former editor at Sports Illustrated, said. “He was a guy with a real literary bent and a real sense of language. He was quite economical and eloquent at the same time.”

During the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Mr. Moore described Florence Griffith Joyner’s gold medal-winning, world-record victory in the 200-meter race.

“Griffith Joyner came home with tresses flying and her left knee lifting, as it always does, an inch higher than her right, giving the suggestion of a gallop to her stride,” he wrote, adding, “She came home with a leap across the line and a yell of complex and irresistible pleasure, and then dropped to a prayer of thanksgiving, with her head touching the track.”

At those Olympics, Mr. Moore was also part of the magazine’s team report on the fallout from the Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson’s positive test for a steroid that led him to be stripped of his gold medal in the 100 meters. As part of the report, Mr. Moore learned the details of Mr. Johnson’s steroid use earlier that year on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts.

George Hirsch, a former publisher of Runner’s World magazine, which Mr. Moore wrote for after he left Sports Illustrated, said that Mr. Moore’s athletic past had enhanced his access to his subjects.

“I can remember when he interviewed someone like Bill Rodgers or Joan Benoit,” Mr. Hirsch said, referring to two elite marathoners, “and he would run with them and see who they were in ways that he couldn’t have done if he had not been an elite runner.”

Kenneth Clark Moore was born in Portland, Ore. At the University of Oregon, Mr. Moore was a three-time All-American in cross-country. In 1965, after Mr. Moore broke a bone in his right foot, Mr. Bowerman, his coach at the time, noticed that he was wearing high-jump training shoes that had little padding or arch support.

In the six weeks that the foot needed to heal, Mr. Bowerman designed and had made a prototype that brought Mr. Moore relief; he ran pain-free in many more prototypes that further refined the shoe, leading Blue Ribbon Sports to introduce it as the Cortez.

Mr. Moore earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1966. After graduating, he qualified for the marathon at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico; he finished 14th in a race won by Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia.

After two years in the Army and a year at Stanford Law School, he returned to the University of Oregon to earn a master’s degree in creative writing in 1972.

That year, he ran in the marathon at the Summer Olympics in Munich a few days after 11 Israeli athletes and coaches there were massacred by Palestinian terrorists.

“Until now, in my twenty-ninth year, I had believed the Olympics immune to the threats of the larger world,” he wrote in “Bowerman and the Men of Oregon.” “It was an illusion, but it had been the strongest of my life. I shook and sobbed as it was shattered.”

Mr. Moore tripped early in the race, but recovered enough to finish fourth. Frank Shorter won the event, and Mr. Wolde finished third.

“If it is run right, a marathon inflicts some damage,” Mr. Moore wrote. “I ran it right, the crowd’s approval roaring in my head, on a cushion of blood blisters.”

In 1980, while writing for Sports Illustrated, he helped the writer-director Robert Towne get permission to use the track at the University of Oregon to film part of the 1982 movie “Personal Best.” The movie, about peak athletic competition, centered on two female pentathletes (played by Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly) who have a sexual relationship.

Mr. Towne then persuaded Mr. Moore, who had no acting experience, to play the lover of Ms. Hemingway’s character after the women break up.

“But I’ve never … I’m shy, I get embarrassed,” Mr. Moore, who wrote about the experience in Sports Illustrated, recalled telling Mr. Towne. “I became a writer so I wouldn’t have to talk.”

“You’re an athlete,” Mr. Towne said. “And the character is easily embarrassed.”

In his review, Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that Mr. Moore was “the biggest surprise” — “relaxed, charming, low-keyed and self-assured.”

After leaving Sports Illustrated in 1995, Mr. Moore collaborated with Mr. Towne on the screenplay for “Without Limits” (1998), about the brash Oregon runner Steve Prefontaine, who held seven American distance records at his death in a car accident in 1975. He and Mr. Moore had been close friends.

In addition to his brother, Mr. Moore is survived by his wife, Connie Johnston Moore. His first marriage, to Roberta Conlan, ended in divorce.

Starting in the mid-1990s, Mr. Moore helped lead a human rights campaign to publicize the plight of Mr. Wolde, a former Army captain who was accused of killing a boy during the reign of terror in Ethiopia that followed the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974.

Mr. Wolde proclaimed his innocence in a case that was finally decided in 2002 when a judge convicted him of a lesser charge and sentenced him to six years in prison, then freed him because he had already served nine.

Mr. Moore recalled in a Runner’s World article in 2018 that he spoke by telephone with Mr. Wolde soon after his release.

“How’s your health?” Mr. Moore asked.

“Hey,” said Mr. Wolde, who died a few months later, “give me a couple of months to recuperate and I’ll race you anywhere you want, any distance you want!”

Richard Sandomir is a Times obituaries writer. He previously wrote about sports media and sports business. He is also the author of several books, including “The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper and the Making of a Classic.

 

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