Jenner, (William) Bruce

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JENNER, (William) Bruce

(b. 28 October 1949 in Mount Kisco, New York), decathlete who won the gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada.

Jenner was the second of four children born to William Jenner, a tree surgeon, and Estelle Jenner, a homemaker. He spent his early childhood in Mount Kisco; when he was in his early teens, the family moved to Newton, Connecticut. Jenner came from a long line of athletes, and it seemed only natural that he would one day become an Olympic hero. His father had won the silver medal in the 100-yard dash at the U.S. Army Olympics in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1945, and his grandfather had run the Boston Marathon several times. While Jenner excelled at sports, he struggled with academics. An undiagnosed dyslexic, he had great difficulty learning to read and was ridiculed by his classmates. But things changed for him in the fifth grade when it was discovered that he was a fast runner. He quickly became popular and gained the respect of his peers.

Jenner attended Newton High School where he participated in basketball, football, and track. He won numerous trophies, including awards from the Eastern States water-ski competition and New York State's pole-vault and high-jump championships. Despite his poor grades, he received a football scholarship to Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa. His days on the gridiron ended early in his freshman year after he suffered an injury to his knee, tearing his medial collateral ligament. Although he could no longer play football, he was still able to play on the school's basketball and track teams. It was track, however, that captured his heart. Jenner enjoyed the grueling demands of the sport as well as the personal challenges it presented. In track and field, unlike team sports, he relied solely on himself to win competitions. He competed in his first decathlon in 1970 and not only won the event but also broke the school's record.

Jenner decided to focus on the decathlon and set his goals for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. Only three decathletes would represent the United States at the games. After one year of training, Jenner arrived at the Olympic tryouts as a virtual unknown. He had difficulty on the first day of competition and finished in eleventh place. On the second day of the trials he inched up the rankings, and by the time he completed his pole vault and javelin throw, he had moved up to fifth place. His dream of competing at the Olympics depended on his performance in the last event, the 1,500-meter run. In order to secure a spot on the U.S. team, he needed to beat the person in third place by eighteen seconds. Jenner not only overcame the third-place athlete to make the U.S. team, he won the competition by twenty-one seconds. After a disappointing performance at the Olympics in Munich, where he finished in tenth place, Jenner returned to the United States determined to win the gold medal in the 1976 summer games in Montreal, Canada.

On 16 December 1972 Jenner married his college sweetheart, Chrystie Crownover; they had two children. Crown-over worked as a flight attendant to support her husband while he prepared for the Olympic Games. Training became Jenner's main occupation, and he often worked out for eight hours a day, five days a week. He also worked part-time as an insurance salesman to help support his family, and in 1973 he graduated from Graceland College.

Jenner's hard work and dedication paid off in 1975 when he secured a spot on the U.S. Olympic team by winning the decathlon at the Pan-American Games in Mexico City. By the time the Olympic Games arrived, Jenner was favored to win the gold medal. After the first day of competition, Jenner trailed West Germany's Guido Kratschmer by thirty-five points, but on the second day, he competed in his stronger events: the 110-meter hurdles, discus, pole vault javelin, and 1,500-meter run. By the end of the eighth event, he had a giant lead. He set a personal record in the 1,500-meter, and also set a new world record with 8,618 points, in addition to taking home the gold medal and the title of world's greatest athlete. He retired from the sport that same day, feeling that he had accomplished his goal and that he had given up too much in life in order to win the gold medal. He made his point by leaving his vault poles at the Olympic stadium.

Jenner's achievement made him an instant celebrity. His story was featured in newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and he was sought after for public appearances and offered endorsement deals. Jenner received many accolades; he was named as the Associated Press Athlete of the Year and received the Sullivan Award as the best amateur athlete in the United States. His new-found fame and popularity landed him several acting roles, including cameo appearances on television shows and small roles in movies. He also worked as a sportscaster for ABC Sports, as guest host and special correspondent from 1976 to 1988, and was ABC's official representative to the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary. He also worked with NBC between 1976 and 1980 and anchored one of their pay-per-view channels during the 1992 summer games in Barcelona. Jenner also authored Decathlon Challenge: Bruce Jenner ' s Story (1977), an autobiography describing his road to the Olympics, and Bruce and Chrystie Jenner ' s Guide to Family Fitness (1978).

While Jenner's professional life thrived, his personal life underwent some major changes. After eight years, his marriage to Crownover ended in a high-profile divorce in 1980. One year later, Jenner married Linda Thompson, a former beauty queen and the ex-girlfriend of the singer Elvis Presley. They had two children before divorcing in 1986. Jenner met Kris Kardashian on a blind date in 1990, and the two married five months later. Combined, the couple raised ten children, including those from their previous marriages. They had two daughters together, and live with their children in Hidden Hills, California.

Jenner credited Kardashian for being the mastermind behind their lucrative business ventures, which included infomercials, videotapes, a women's self-defense and fitness program, and a line of exercise equipment. Jenner also worked as a lecturer and was sought by major corporations for his motivational speeches. More than two decades after winning the Olympic decathlon, Jenner was still associated with the sport and was the subject of the CD-ROM game Bruce Jenner ' s World-Class Decathlon (1996). He was named to the Olympic Hall of Fame in 1986.

Twenty-five years after capturing the gold medal, Jenner is still revered as a champion. An athlete, sportscaster, motivational speaker, entrepreneur, and family man, Jenner's work ethic and indomitable spirit have enabled him to overcome obstacles on and off the track field and succeed in life.

Jenner has written several books, including with Phillip Finch, Decathlon Challenge: Bruce Jenner's Story (1977); Bruce and Chrystie Jenner's Guide to Family Fitness (1978); with Marc Abraham, Bruce Jenner's Guide to the Olympics (1979); with R. Smith Kiliper, The Olympics and Me (1980); with Bill Dobbins, Bruce Jenner's The Athletic Body: A Complete Fitness Guide for Teenagers—Sports, Strength, Health, Agility (1984); with Marc Abraham, Bruce Jenner's Viewers Guide to the 1984 Summer Olympics (1984); and with Mark Seal, Finding the Champion Within: A Step-by-Step Plan for Reaching Your Full Potential (1996). His life story and accomplishments also appear in Current Biography Yearbook (1977); Sport (July 1976, Nov. 1976); Sports Illustrated (9 Aug. 1976); and People Weekly (11 Apr. 1977, 15 July 1996).

Sabine Louissaint

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Jenner, (William) Bruce

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