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
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.
|1949||Born in Mt. Kisco, NY|
|1970||Enters first decathlon, and wins|
|1972||Competes in Munich Olympics; comes in tenth|
|1972||Marries Chrystie Crownover|
|1974||Wins Amateur Athletic Union decathlon|
|1975||Wins Pan-American Games decathlon|
|1976||Wins Amateur Athletic Union decathlon|
|1976||Wins gold medal in Montreal Olympic decathlon|
|1980||Jenner and Crownover divorce|
|1981||Jenner marries Linda Thompson|
|1986||Jenner and Thompson divorce|
|1991||Marries Kris Kardashian|
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."
Related Biography: Decathlete Daley Thompson
Daley Thompson is one of the best decathletes in history. Born Francis Ayodele Thompson in London, England in 1958, Thompson was interested in sports and highly competitive from early childhood. He entered his first meet at the age of 14, in 1973, and by 1976, was good enough to make the Olympic team. He came in eighteenth, but gold medal decathlete Bruce Jenner predicted that Thompson would one day win gold in the event.
Jenner was right. Thompson won the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics, held in Moscow, and was prevented from setting a new world record only by foul weather. He did set an Olympic record, with a point total of 8,798, which was not broken until 1996. Thompson won another gold medal at the 1984 Olympics, but his dream of winning three Olympic gold medals was crushed when he broke his pole during the pole vault, injuring his adductor muscle.
After retiring from competition, Thompson continued to work as a coach and trainer.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1974||Wins Amateur Athletic Union decathlon|
|1975||Wins Pan-American Games decathlon|
|1976||Wins Amateur Athletic Union decathlon|
|1976||Wins gold medal in Montreal Olympic decathlon|
|1976||Sullivan Award; Associated Press Athlete of the Year|
|1980||Inducted into National Track and Field Hall of Fame|
|1986||Inducted into Olympic Hall of Fame|
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.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY JENNER:
(With Philip Finch) Decathlon Challenge: Bruce Jenner's Story, Prentice-Hall, 1977.
(With Chrystie Jenner and Ross Olney) Bruce and Chrystie Jenner's Guide to Family Fitness, Grosset, 1978.
(With Marc Abraham) Bruce Jenner's Guide to the Olympics, Andrews and McMeel, 1979.
(With R. Smith Kiliper) The Olympics and Me, Doubleday, 1980.
(With Bill Dobbins) Bruce Jenner's The Athletic Body: A Complete Fitness Guide for Teenagers: Sports, Strength, Health, Agility, Simon and Schuster, 1984.
(With Marc Abraham) Bruce Jenner's Guide to the 1984 Summer Olympics, Andrews, McMeel and Parker, 1984.
Where Is He Now?
Jenner continues to work as a motivational speaker and spokesperson for a wide variety of products, including Bruce Jenner's World Class Decathlon video game; Visa; Coca-Cola; and IBM. He is owner of Bruce Jenner Aviation, which buys and resells small planes, and Jenner Communications, which produces infomercials. Since 1982, he has hosted the Bruce Jenner Classic, an international track-and-field meet held in San Jose, California.
(With Priscilla Davis Dann) Finding the Champion Within: A Step-By Step Plan for Reaching Your Full Potential, Simon and Schuster, 1997.
"Bruce Jenner," Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Vol. 21, Gale Group, 2001.
"Daley Thompson," Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Vol. 20, Gale Group, 2000.
"After Five Years, Bruce Jenner and Second Wife Linda Find Happiness Is Not Working Out," People, (February 10, 1986): 105.
"Bruce Jenner," Christian Science Monitor, (August 19, 1999): 23.
"Bruce Jenner: After Years of Turmoil The Champ Gets His Life Back in Gear," People, (July 15, 1996): 93.
Cazeneuve, Brian, "Bruce Jenner, Decathlete," Sports Illustrated, (December 16, 2002): 29.
Downey, Mike, "Twenty Years Later, 1976 Decathlon Champion Bruce Jenner is Better Than Ever," Los Angeles Times, (June 23, 1996): 3.
Jordan, Peg, American Fitness, (January-February, 1994): 16.
Swancey, Jason, "Jenner Upped Ante in '76," Sarasota Herald Tribune, (April 26, 1998): 1C.
Weiner, Jay, "Where Are They Now? Former Decathlon Star Jenner Has a Job That Fits Him to a T," Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), (July 31, 1996): 2S.
"Bruce Jenner," Sports Stars USA. http://www.sportsstarsusa.com/ (January 17, 2003).
Keppler Associates. http://www.kepplerassociates.com/ (January 17, 2003).
"Seeking Olympic Gold," Longevity Network. http://www.longevitynetwork.com/ (January 3, 2001).
Sketch by Kelly Winters
One of the most famous athletes of the 1970s, Bruce Jenner (born 1949) won the gold medal in the decathlon in the 1976 Olympic Games.
Born in Mount Kisco, New York on October 18, 1949, Bruce Jenner was the second of four children of William Jenner, a tree surgeon, and Estelle Jenner. It would be no surprise to Jenner's parents that their son would excel at athletics; 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. Jenner's grandfather had run in the Boston Marathon several times. Jenner told an interviewer in Ability magazine, "By the time I turned two, I'd already developed a big chest, wide shoulders, and boundless energy."
Encountered Difficulties in School
While Jenner's innate athletic talent led to success on the playground, classroom work came far less easily to him because he was dyslexic. People with this learning disability have trouble reading, spelling, and expressing themselves. Jenner explained to the Ability interviewer that while coping with this disability was hard enough, what made school even harder was that he felt that everyone else was so much better at it than he was. "My biggest fear was going to school," he recalled. "I was afraid the teacher was going to make me read in front of the class, and I was going to look bad. I lost enthusiasm for school and I flunked second grade."
Fortunately, in fifth grade Jenner discovered something he was good at. His teacher had all the students run, and timed them to see who was fastest. Jenner was the fastest student in the school. He liked the positive response he got. Because he could excel in sports, "Sports became my little niche in life."
Focused on Personal Strengths
By the time he started high school Jenner's family had moved to Newtown, Connecticut. At Newtown High Jenner was on the basketball, football, and track teams. He was also a three-time water skiing champion in the Eastern States competition, and was New York's all-state pole vault and high-jump champion. His all-around talent, however, was viewed as a liability by some. Jenner told Greg Garber of the Hartford Courant that he once overheard his football coach saying, "He's the best punter, but he's also the best center. How's he going to snap it to himself?" The praise felt good, Jenner said, but the comment also turned him off from team sports. "Teams could only let you down. In individual sports, it was just me."
Although Jenner's grades were not very good, he was eager to go to college. The Vietnam War was raging and, as he told Garber, "I was getting kind of scared. In those days, you got drafted if you didn't go to college." At the last minute, he received a football scholarship to Graceland College in Iowa, and accepted it. However, he wasn't able to play after an injury his freshman year put him on the sidelines; while blocking a punt, he tore the medial collateral ligament in his knee, had surgery, and was put in a cast. "I thought sports were over for me," he later told Garber.
Fortunately, Jenner was wrong. Although no longer on the football team, 16 months after his knee injury he was playing basketball and training on the school's track. In 1970 he competed in his first decathlon—a two-day competition in ten different track and field events—and not only won, but broke the school record, set by his roommate, Mike Maddox. In the Biographical Dictionary of American Sports, James D. Whalen wrote that this collection of running, jumping, and throwing events "is the most grueling and comprehensive test of strength, skill, speed, and endurance in athletic competition." Jenner was fortunate in the fact that his coach at Graceland, L. D. Weldon, was not only familiar with the decathlon, but had also coached Jack Parker, who won the bronze medal at the 1936 Olympics.
Qualified for 1972 Olympic Team
Jenner, intrigued by the challenge of the decathlon event, began seriously training. Within a year, he attended the trials for the U.S. Olympic team. No one expected him to make the team; only the top three athletes in the country would be selected and Jenner was an unknown. After the first day of trials, Jenner, in 11th place, still did not appear to be a likely prospect. On the second day, with three events to go, he had climbed to tenth place. After completing the pole vault, he advanced to seventh place, and his javelin throw propelled him to fifth place. In order to make the team, he had to beat the athlete in third place by 18 seconds in the 1500 meters. Jenner set a personal record, beating the competition by 21 seconds, advancing to third place, and making the team.
"It is still the biggest athletic thrill of my life," Jenner recalled of making the team. "Never, ever in a million years did I think I'd be competing in the Olympics." At the 1972 Olympics, held in Munich, Germany, he came in tenth.
In December of 1972 Jenner married his college sweetheart, Chrystie Crownover, a minister's daughter. For the next four years Chrystie Jenner worked as a flight attendant while her husband concentrated on training, hoping to get another chance at the Olympics. He trained hard, often eight hours a day, and sold insurance on the side. In 1974 and 1976 he won the Amateur Athletic Union decathlon. In 1975 he won the Pan-American Games. Because of these successes, he was chosen for the 1976 U.S. Olympic team.
In the Encyclopedia of World Sport, David Levinson and Karen Christensen pointed out that Jenner had a perfect physique for the decathlon. "Most really good decathletes are remarkably similar in size," they wrote. "Today's average height/weight for world-class decathletes is 1.88 meters/88 kilograms (6 feet, 2 inches/195 pounds), exactly Bruce Jenner's statistics."
Brought Home 1976 Olympic Gold
Jenner was expected to win at the 1976 Olympics, held in Montreal, and he didn't disappoint his fans. His strategy was to stay within 200 points of the leader's score by the end of the first day, when the 100-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, and 400-meter dash were held. After these events, Jenner had amassed a total of 4,298 points— only 35 points behind the leader, West Germany's Guido Kratschmer. On the second day, Jenner's strongest events were held: the 110-meter hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1500-meter run. By the eighth event, he had an unshakable lead; there was no way any other athlete could catch up with his score. He set a personal record in the 1500 meter run, the final event of the decathlon, and overall, set a decathlon world record of 8,618 points for the ten events.
After the win, Jenner didn't plan to compete any more and, in fact, left his vaulting poles in the Olympic stadium because he knew he was done with his track career. He told Garber, "I retired that day. I had to give up too much to get there, lifewise. I knew it was the last hurrah."
In addition to his Olympic accolades, Jenner was named Associated Press Athlete of the Year and received the Sullivan Award for the best amateur athlete in the United States. Fellow decathlete, Bill Toomey won the gold at the 1968 Olympics. He was quoted by Whalen as saying, "It takes a decathlon athlete to truly appreciate what Jenner has done. It was total artistry, a beautiful composition. He was hungry, extremely motivated."
Earned a "Spectacular Living"
After the Olympics Jenner was the most popular athlete in the United States. Capitalizing on his fame, as well as his good looks, he made more money from winning a single event than any other athlete had before him, as he was widely sought after for commercials, promotions, and public appearances. As Garber commented, he "has made a spectacular living simply being Bruce Jenner." Jenner appeared in movies, on television, was a sportscaster with ABC-TV, and co-authored two books, Decathlon Challenge: Bruce Jenner's Story (1977) and Bruce Jenner's Guide to Family Fitness (1978). He later explained to Garber, "I looked at it like a business. I made decisions based on the long term. I didn't want to be up there just until the next name came along."
Jenner and his wife, Chrystie, were considered the "All-American couple," according to Ralph Hickok in A Who's Who of Sports Champions. Often in the public eye, they were both involved in Jenner's promotional activities and appearances, and were featured in a book titled Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Unfortunately, the couple's high profile came at too high a cost to their relationship. When they divorced in 1980 they received almost as much publicity as Jenner had for winning the decathlon. They had two children.
In 1981 Jenner married Linda Thompson, a former beauty-pageant winner and ex-girlfriend of singer Elvis Presley. Jenner and his second wife also had two children, and divorced after five years.
The Price of Fame
By the late 1980s Jenner's success and fame had caught up with him. He told an interviewer on the Longevity Network Web site that his sudden exposure to the public had unnerved him. "I was surrounded by tele-prompters as a TV sportscaster, and I found myself suddenly thrown into a glass fishbowl as a celebrity and American hero. What I was hiding was that I had the same mindset as the nervous dyslexic schoolboy hiding from my teacher." Although he retained his upbeat public persona, his private life was in disarray. "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. My main source of income was from public speaking jobs—at which I always wore my best attire—an out-of-style 1976 tuxedo." In an interview for Pathfinder.com, Jenner summed up that period by saying, "I was drifting. I had worked really hard and didn't have much to show for it. But everything turned around the day I met Kris."
Found Strength to Bounce Back
Jenner met Kris Kardashian in 1990, and five months later they were husband and wife. Since that time they have added several children to the Jenner family, for a total of ten-"kind of a Brady Bunch deal," Jenner explained to Garber. Kris Jenner became the moving force behind a new family conglomerate that included their infomercials ("Super Fit with Bruce and Kris Jenner"), exercise machines, and Jenner's aircraft sales company. They also produced a video, Women's Self-Defense and Fitness Program. Meanwhile, Jenner continued to work as a motivational speaker for corporate audiences, spreading his message on "How to Compete Successfully in Life and in Business." According to promotional literature, the Jenners sold more than $450 million of fitness-related products by the late 1990s.
Jenner's business activities allowed him to remain in the public eye long after his Olympic moment. The subject of a CD-ROM game titled Bruce Jenner's World-Class Decathlon, he also authored the book Finding the Champion Within (1997). As he admitted to Garber, "Nobody has milked one performance better than me—and I'm damned proud of it. It completely amazes me how this whole thing turned out." Although he retired from running after his win in 1976, Jenner continued to be active and involved in a variety of sports. He was often seen riding his mountain bike in the hills near his California home or on the golf course. A commercially ranked pilot, Jenner piloted his own jet and also raced cars in Grand Prix events.
Despite the many avenues he pursued in his adult life, Jenner has remained a well-respected athlete. Inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, he is also represented in the Olympic Hall of Fame. On the Sports Stars USA Web site, Jenner commented: "I love life, and I want to live it! Activity, variety and the next challenge around the bend and my eight kids—keep me excited and inspired. I wouldn't have it any other way."
Biographical Dictionary of American Sports, edited by David L. Porter, Greenwood Press, 1988.
Encyclopedia of World Sport, edited by David Levinson and Karen Christensen, ABC-Clio, 1996.
Hickok, Ralph, A Who's Who of Sports Champions, Houghton Mifflin, 1995.
Hartford Courant, January 5, 2000.
"Bruce Jenner," Sports Stars USA,http://www.sportsstarsusa.com/ (January 3, 2001).
"Bruce Jenner Interview," Ability,http://www.abilitymagazine.com/ (January 3, 2000).
"Seeking Olympic Gold," Longevity Network,http://www.longevitynetwork.com/ (January 3, 2001). □