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Bruce Jenner

Chronology, Related Biography: Decathlete Daley Thompson, Awards And Accomplishments, Selected Writings By Jenner:CONTACT INFORMATION


American decathlete

Bruce Jenner won a gold medal in the decathlon in the 1976 Olympic Games. He also set a new world record for the decathlon, with 8,176 points. After the Olympics, he used the fame he had won to develop a new career as an entrepreneur, product spokesperson, and motivational speaker.

Jenner was born and grew up in Mt. Kisco, New York, the second of four children of William Jenner, a tree surgeon, and Estelle Jenner. William Jenner had competed in the U.S. Army Olympics in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1945, and won a silver medal in the 100-yard dash. In addition, Jenner's grandfather had run in several Boston Marathons. Jenner inherited their athletic ability and high energy level. Despite his athletic talent, Jenner soon grew to hate school because he had a reading disability that caused him to fail second grade (a big embarrassment). He would do anything to get out of reading in front of the class, and focused his energy on sports instead.

When he was in fifth grade, Jenner's teacher had all the students run, timing them to see who was the best. Jenner was the fastest runner in the school. This success encouraged his interest in sports. According to Mike Downey in the Los Angeles Times, "On a field of play he would challenge anyone he knew to be a good student, just so he could clobber that kid and then say, 'Read that.'" Jenner told Downey that because nothing came easily to him, he had to work harder, and that if everything had been easy for him, "I never would have realized the way you get ahead in life is hard work." Thus, he credited his learning disability for giving him his intense drive to work and succeed.

Jenner's family moved to Newtown, Connecticut before he began high school. While in high school, he was a pole vault and high jump champion. He also won the Eastern States water-skiing competition three times and was a member of his school's football and basketball teams.

Jenner wanted to go to college, mainly because the Vietnam War was raging, and college students were exempt

Bruce Jenner

from the military draft. He also wanted to play football. He won a football scholarship for $250 a year to Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa, but during his freshman year he was sidelined by an injury. Bored, he turned to the decathlon. At his first meet, in 1970, he not only won but set a school record, earning 6,991 points. From that point on, he decided to devote all his energy to the decathlon.

The decathlon involves ten running, jumping, and throwing events, held over two days: on the first day, the events include the 100-meter run, long jump, shot put, high jump, and 400-meter run. On the second day, they include the 110-meter hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1500-meter run. The events are scored and athletes accumulate points for each performance; the athlete with the highest total score after all the events are completed is the winner. Of the events, the most challenging is the 1,500 meter run; British gold-medalwinning decathlete Daley Thompson once described the decathlon as "nine Mickey Mouse events and the 1,500," according to Downey.

When Jenner went to the trials for the 1972 Olympics he was not expected to do well enough to make the team. Only the three top athletes would be allowed on the team, and by the end of the first day of the trials, Jenner was in 11th place. On the second day, with three events left, he was in tenth place, and still did not look like a good prospect for the team. However, he moved up to seventh place after the pole vault, and to fifth place after his javelin throw. If he could beat the athlete who was currently in third place by 18 seconds in the 1500 meters, he would make the team. Jenner beat his competitor by 21 seconds. At the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, Jenner finished in tenth place. His finish was disappointing to him, and he vowed to train harder and do better.

In December of 1972, Jenner married Chrystie Crownover, a minister's daughter whom he had met in college. For the next four years, he trained while she supported the couple by working as a flight attendant. Jenner also sold insurance part-time. In 1974 and 1976, Jenner won the Amateur Athletic Union decathlon. In 1975, he won the Pan-American Games decathlon. These wins made him a sure member of the U.S. Olympic team for 1976.

In preparation for the Olympics, Jenner trained eight hours a day. He was so intense about his training that he put a hurdle in his living room, and jumped over it more than 25 times each day. He told Downey, "It was not a well-rounded life. But it was [going to be] my last decathlon. I knew that I would have 60 or 70 years to recover."

At the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Jenner was expected to win. He planned to stay within 200 points of the leader's score by the end of the first day. In fact, he ended the day with 4,298 points, only 35 points behind the leader. And by the eighth event on the second day, he was so far ahead that there was no way anyone else could catch up with him. He did so well in the first nine events that he only needed to place third in the 1,500 in order to win a gold medal for the entire event. He came in first, winning gold and setting a new world record for the decathlon, with 8,176 points. Jenner planned to retire after the 1976 Olympics, and he even left his vaulting poles behind in the Olympic stadium because he had already decided he would never compete again.

Jenner was named Associated Press Athlete of the Year for 1976, and also received the Sullivan Award for best amateur athlete in the United States in 1976. He was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1980 and into the Olympic Hall of Fame in 1986.

After winning the decathlon, Jenner wanted to buy a house, but had no assets. At the time, he was making $9,000 a year by selling insurance. He put up his Olympic gold medal as collateral. He got the loan; perhaps the officer foresaw that Jenner would turn his performance into more gold, through personal appearances and endorsements, than any athlete had ever made before.

Jenner's success in the decathlon received intense publicity and was a source of great pride for Americans. It was the year of the Bicentennial, an occasion of patriotic pomp ad circumstance; and Jenner, an American, had beaten a Soviet athlete during a period of great tension between the Soviet Union and the United States. In addition, he had movie-star good looks and a great deal of personal charm. Jenner told Jason Swancey in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, "I happened to be the right guy in the right place at the right time."

Jenner's face promptly appeared on the Wheaties box as an example of athletic prowess and health, and he has made his living ever since by riding on his success as an Olympic athlete, promoting various products. He was one of the first athletes to do this, and told Swancey, "Sports marketing has become very big and I would like to think I was one of the guys who kind of got that started." Jenner also told Brian Cazeneuve in Time, "Nobody's worked one performance better than I have. I was in that stadium 48 hours and now you can't get rid of me."

Jenner's schedule soon became so demanding that he learned to fly in order to get to all his appearances on time. He bought a 1978 Beechcraft Bonanza airplane, learned to fly, and got his ratings as a pilot. But his hectic schedule hurt his family file. Jenner and Crownover divorced in 1980. In 1981, Jenner married Linda Thompson, an actor, but they divorced in 1986. Thompson told a reporter for People that the reason was Jenner's frequent absences from home while he pursued his career as a product spokesperson, actor, and television commentator.

Jenner also rode his reputation into television and movie roles. Although he appeared in a movie, Can't Stop the Music, the film was a flop. Jenner jokingly told Jay Weiner in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "What 'Can't Stop the Music' proved is that you can stop the music." According to Downey, Michael Sauter, author of the book The Worst Films of All Time, wrote that the film has scenes that "you find yourself wanting to see a second time, because you can't quite believe what you think you just saw." Jenner also appeared in a forgettable episode of the television drama "CHiPs." He was host of a celebrity sports program, "Star Games," and occasionally substituted for anchor David Hartman on the television program "Good Morning America."

Jenner told a reporter for People that the late 1980s were a difficult period for him. "I was drifting. I had worked really hard and didn't have much to show for it." He also told a reporter on the Longevity Network Web site that constantly being in the public eye was making him nervous. "I found myself thrown into a glass fish-bowl as a celebrity and an American hero. What I was hiding was that I had the same mindset as the nervous schoolboy hiding from my teacher." He also said that his public life as a celebrity did not match the reality of his private life: "In 1990 you would have found me living in a one-bedroom Los Angeles bungalow, my sink piled high with dirty dishes and my living room decorated with a dried-out Christmas tree." He said that at his public appearances, he always wore his best suit: "an out-of-style 1976 tuxedo."

Jenner's life changed for the good when he met his third wife, Kris Kardashian, on a blind date in 1990. They were married five months later, in 1991. He and Kardashian had each had four children before marrying each other, and they eventually had two children together. During the 1990s, Jenner and Kris sold stairclimbing machines through a television infomercial, "Super Fit with Bruce Jenner," for which Kris was the driving force. In 1993 alone, according to an article in American Fitness, the infomercial was aired over 2,000 times each month in 17 countries. They also branched out into selling resistance exercise equipment. Jenner was also active in his support for various nonprofit organizations, including the Special Olympics, the Inner City Games, and the California Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

Jenner told Dawson that his wife was a major influence on his life: "The reason today I am working as hard as I am is Kris. I got rid of all agents, all managers, all the outsiders who prey on you. She knows how to keep all the percentages everyone else is always taking from you, until there's nothing left for ol' Bruce. She remade me from head to toe."

On the Sports StarsUSA Web site, Jenner summed up his "Rule for Life": "I love life and I want to LIVE it! Activity, variety and the next challenge around the bend and my… kids—keep me excited and inspired. I wouldn't have it any other way."


Address: c/o Keppler Associates, 4350 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 700 Arlington, VA 22203. Fax: 703-516-4819. Phone: 703-516-4000. Online: www.bruce-jenner.com.

Sketch by Kelly Winters

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