This interview originally ran in our July 1980 issue.
Olympic Stadium, Montreal, July 30, 1976. Evening was settling over the second and final day of the XXI Olympiad’s decathlon competition, a brutal ten-event test of all-round athletic skill. With one event to go, Bruce Jenner knew that a half-decent time in the 1500 meters would break his own world’s decathlon record. Indeed, his 8618 points would be his third world record in the past 12 months. Following the ghost of Jim Thorpe and the spirits of Bob Mathias and Rafer Johnson, the 26-year-old Jenner knew he had a gold medal cinched, that six years of ascetic training had come to this one moment. Sitting on a bench in the infield, he covered his head with a towel and sobbed, which caught the attention of Leonid Litvinenko, a Soviet decathlete. Litvinenko lifted the towel and peered down at the American. “Bruce,” he said in a thick Russian accent, “you going to be millionaire?” Jenner started laughing. Yeah, he was going to be a millionaire, many times over.
But not every Olympic hero cashes in on the golden success; witness Mark Spitz and his buffoonish television appearances after taking seven swimming gold medals in the 1972 games. Except for old-timers like Jesse Owens, Johnny Weissmuller, Mathias and a few winter Olympics figure skaters, most Olympic stars fade from public view, only to be trotted out for quadrennial commercial endorsements.
Bruce Jenner, however, the latest in a distinguished line of “world’s greatest athletes,” is a different matter. Boyishly handsome, open and willing, if not downright eager, to please, he was a marketing dream, an American hero of almost fictional proportions. Moreover, you got two for the price of one; there in the stands, weeping with joy, being helped onto the field and rushed to her husband’s arms, Chrystie Jenner reveled in their accomplishment. She had supported her husband financially and emotionally during his training, balancing the checkbook, scheduling interviews and leaving him free for his single-minded quest. They were the consummate sales team. Bruce, clean, reverent, virtuous and a boy scout, to boot; Chrystie, a loyal wife who nevertheless had her own strong identity. Jenner left his vaulting poles in the stadium and, as he departed for a new life, turned his head to the now-empty stands and actually said, “Thanks for the memories.”
It is perhaps forgivable, considering the moment, and sentimentality still has a place in middle America. But what direction would Jenner take? Advisor George Wallach screened the flood of offers and Jenner’s staff grew to include a PR agency, a theatrical agent, attorneys and accountants to manage his mounting pile of loot. His speaking fee jumped from $50 to $7500 and more, and he turned down daily requests for his tear-jerking inspirational talk. He flew to Rome and tested for the role of Superman but was considered too young and inexperienced. No matter; ABC signed him to a two-year broadcasting contract and let him flex his larynx on such scintillating events as volleyball, “Superstars” and “Battle of the Network Stars.” He has even graduated to a little singing and dancing; but when the ABC pact expired, he joined NBC with a mind, to cover the 1980 games in Moscow.
After careful study, Jenner turned down scores of head-spinning offers. Visions of Spitz kept him from plunging into waters with which he was not familiar. And O. J. Simpson had just one word of advice for the young man: “ ‘Spokesman’ is what the Juice told me,” explained Jenner, who signed a long-term deal with General Mills and became the new shill for Wheaties. In his commercials, he claimed to have “downed a lot of Wheaties” on his road to the Olympics, which led to a ludicrous and highly publicized deceptive-advertising suit, brought by San Francisco District Attorney Joe Freitas. Jenner thought the flap was fabulous and challenged Freitas to ask Mrs. Jenner if her baby boy had ever eaten the product. “I ate Wheaties,” he said. “Ask my mother. Mothers never lie.”
To add to their miniconglomerate, Bruce and Chrystie cut a deal with Minolta cameras; she has several ventures of her own and Bruce’s name is licensed for shoes and clothing. He has just completed the filming of his first movie, an Allan (Grease) Carr production called Can’t Stop the Music. It’s a semitrue story of how the Village People got together and Jenner, co-starring with Valerie Perrine, plays a shy lawyer from St. Louis. After scraping by on Chrystie’s salary and a few insurance commissions in a small San Jose apartment, Jenner says rather matter-of-factly, “My income has doubled every year since the Olympics.” Three years ago, it was estimated he earned $500,000. If you’ve got a calculator, take it from there.
The trappings of wealth sit well with Jenner. He owns a $1,000,000 Malibu house with a swimming pool and a tennis court in the back yard and enough bedrooms and lofts to accommodate the entire Polish Olympic team. He drives a Porsche Turbo Carrera, owns dirt bikes, jet skis, a speedboat, a van and an airplane, and can’t talk enough about his “toys.”
The son of a tree surgeon, Jenner was born in New York but was raised in Connecticut. A good half-dozen locations claim to be his home town. He was an average student, afflicted with a mild case of dyslexia, which still gives him trouble with cue cards, and though a good high school athlete, nothing spectacular. In fact, he received but one scholarship offer, a grant of $500 from tiny Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa.
Although he hurt his knee early in his freshman football season, with surgery ending that career, he came under the tutelage of coach L. D. Weldon, a man who figured Jenner couldn’t make much of himself in one event but had the body and aptitude for the arduous decathlon, an arcane event largely ignored in the U.S. except during Olympic years.
He made the 1972 U S. Olympic team and finished a surprising tenth in Munich. The experts nevertheless figured Jenner would never be a medal winner. He did not have the strength or the physical presence of a champion, and just a few weeks after those games, he flunked his draft physical.
The Jenners were married after Munich and settled into the patterns of training, moving to San Jose in 1973. It offered excellent facilities and gave Jenner the company of other world-class athletes such as discus throwers John Powell and Mac Wilkins. Jenner sold insurance, popped 57 vitamin pills a day, put some bulk on his frame and ran miles and miles, Bertha panting at his side. Chrystie handled everything else.
They were delightful copy: united, wholesome, a seemingly perfect couple. Film features showed Chrystie skirting the hurdle Bruce kept in the living room, going to work as a stewardess while her man sweated through workouts. They were a team and later wrote an exercise book, which touts the concept that a family that plays together stays together.
But all was not well when Playboy first sent writer Jay Stuller to Malibu to interview Jenner. The all-American couple had been separated for three months. Only a few close friends knew of the split. They reconciled for a brief time—just long enough for Chrystie to get pregnant with their second child—and began visiting a psychiatrist-marriage counselor. To compound matters, friends of the Jenners said that the pair’s sponsors were pressuring them to stay together. The once-model couple appeared headed toward a thoroughly messy divorce, a situation that has since calmed considerably.
Jenner may lose more than a wife: Wheaties may not mind employing a divorced man, but perhaps not one who is running around with “that Presley woman.” Jenner had counted on covering the Olympics for NBC, but with the U. S. boycott of the games, he stood to lose lucrative television exposure. Stuller visited Jenner several times during this rocky period. His report:
“I’d met Bruce a month before the Olympic trials in 1976 and, except for his opulent surroundings, little has changed in the basic fiber of the man. He is as lightly facetious as ever, able to give and take ego-deflating jibes in the best of locker-room tradition. And he dresses as if he were in one, wearing gym shorts around Malibu and casual-to-sloppy garb elsewhere.
"At 6′2″ and 190 pounds, he is thinner than during his competitive days. Where he was once manic about health and diet, our meals together included a stop at a fatburger joint and a late-night raid on a fried-chicken stand. Put Jenner in front of a bowl of sour cream and onion-flavored potato chips and he hits it like an addict. For breakfast, he apologized profusely for eating Raisin Bran but opened his kitchen cabinet to show a family-size box of Wheaties. Yep, the boy does eat Wheaties.
"Although Jenner is open and friendly, our first session was a war to get him to sit still for any continuous line of questioning. He has many loyalties and is loath to offend. You know he thinks a certain sports broadcaster is a moron, his face shows it, but he is reluctant to say so. He was not entirely confident with his opinions and hemmed and hawed like Ted Kennedy. He did, however, improve greatly in subsequent interviews, growing more confident and more outspoken–even as his personal life was collapsing around him.
"When President Carter first mentioned a possible boycott of the 1980 Olympics in response to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, Jenner did not support the move. He said the games should go on, no matter what. But as public opinion shifted in favor of a boycott, Jenner showed all the conviction of a bed of kelp, changing with the tide. And with the Olympic boycott being a daily topic, an interview with Jenner, who thinks he might possibly be the last Olympic decathlon champ, should start with that subject.”
Barring a last-minute change of President Carter’s mind, the U.S. will boycott the Olympic games in Moscow next month. What do you think that will do to the Olympic movement?
I feel it will be the end. And I think it is very sad.
Some people don’t think it’s so sad, arguing that the games have become totally politicized—to say nothing of the sham of false amateurs.
The bad part is that the Olympic games were originally not meant for the politicians of the world. They were started for the youth of the world and it is probably one of the biggest tragedies in history that the games will be boycotted, because our youth will grow up without an opportunity to become Olympic champions.
You’re certainly giving a lot of significance to the Olympics, calling the boycott one of the biggest tragedies in history.
I think it is, because it affects the youth of the world. You can have wars and that sort of stuff–but with the Olympics, you’re affecting the youth, and that’s what builds our country.
Are you saying that the boycott is more tragic than war?
I’ll retract the biggest tragedy ever. But the world would really lose something.
You’ve been contradictory in your statements from the time the boycott was originally proposed. You first said we should not pull out of the games under any circumstances; then only if it “saved lives”; now you seem to be going along with public opinion.
I have to admit I have changed a lot. When the news first came out, I was pretty shocked that the politicians could have that much effect on the games—which obviously they have had in the last few Olympics. But when it hits home, when your team doesn’t go, you start to think about it more. So I was mad, and I felt like I was a spokesman for athletes. And all my friends said that they wanted us to go to Moscow. Athletes, when they’re training to get on the Olympic team, are not that aware; they’re so involved with what they’re doing they don’t know what the world situation is. To be an Olympic champion, you have to mentally dedicate yourself to it, and so you give up other things, like current events. Because of that, an athlete might not look at it the same way a citizen might. His dream and his whole life has been to go to the Olympic games.
Were you speaking for the athletes’ dream?
At first, yeah. My reaction was that I didn’t want to sell my friends out by saying we should follow the President. That would have been the easy way. Because that’s what the press wanted to hear and I’m the all-American kid who would do whatever’s right for America. But I didn’t want to sell my friends out. Then they would turn around and say, “Yeah, look at Bruce, he made his big goal, he makes a lot of money and he’s selling us out now, when we need somebody in there, fighting for us.”
But you’ve changed your views.
I think I’ve matured by talking. Every day I have to discuss this subject with people. I think I look at it different now. I look at it more as an American citizen, as a person who keeps up with current events and knows what’s going on on both sides of the fence. Not only from an athlete’s but also from a political standpoint. Politically, I do not agree with what the Soviet Union is doing.
Who is at fault for the Olympic boycott–the Soviet Union or the United States?
The way I look at it, as an American citizen, I feel like the Soviet Union is. I would feel two-faced if I went to Moscow as an NBC sportscaster, when I don’t really approve of what the Soviet Union is doing in other parts of the world. If I went there and showed viewers downtown Moscow, what a nice place it is and what the night life is like, I would feel very two-faced. It’s like you know what’s going on in the world, but you’re sticking your head in the sand.
Do you think you were naïve about it earlier?
Yes, in a way. I think I was initially reacting to the situation emotionally, without thinking about it.
Do you still feel strongly that politics doesn’t belong in the Olympics?
I would like for politics not to be involved in the Olympic games. The games have so much potential for good, it’s a shame that the political situation today is such that we can’t have something to bring the world together.
You said you changed your mind after talking about the situation. But didn’t you also make a remark about President Carter that got you into trouble?
Yeah, I was talking to a guy from A.P. at the Muhammad Ali track meet. He asked, me what I thought about the boycott. I was upset. obviously, but I gave him a very political answer, as best I possibly could. When that was over, a group of us were standing around, kidding, having a good time, watching the meet. I jokingly said, “If Carter can’t finish a ten-kilometer race, how can he make any decision on sports?” Everybody laughed and thought it was real funny and we went on. Then this guy writes his article and the only thing he quotes is the quip on Carter. Because of that, I got so many letters and flak, people telling me I’m un-American, that they’re not going to eat Wheaties anymore, it forced me into looking at the issue a lot more seriously.
You said it off the cuff, but inside, don’t you really believe it?
I don’t know if I believe the joke I made about President Carter. But I think deep inside him, Carter would love to see the athletes go to Moscow. He’d love to see the youth of America have that opportunity.
All right, you’ve given lip service to supporting the boycott. Now let’s talk about your earlier feelings, your gut feelings. Did you really think the boycott was a wise move?
Well, if you look at past Olympic games, what have boycotts accomplished? Except for making political points, I don’t see what was accomplished. When the black African nations boycotted the games in 1976 to protest South Africa, did it do any good? Is there still prejudice in South Africa? Are the blacks in control down there? Has it done anything, really? It certainly did something to guys like Mike Boit from Kenya. He had a good chance to win the 1500-meter race, and I sat with him in the stands as he watched the other runners compete. He was affected for the rest of his life, but the problems in South Africa continue.
If boycotting the games stopped a war or saved lives, as I’ve said, I’m in favor of it. But I don’t think a boycott will stop the Russians. Look at history and 1936. Would a boycott have stopped Hitler? When Jesse Owens won, he made a different kind of political statement and created a piece of history.
Aside from Owens’ medals, the Berlin games gave Hitler public support and, many feel, legitimized his rule.
I see your point, but I don’t think a boycott would have stopped him.
What about the fact that three years before the Berlin Olympics, all Jews had been excluded from German sports clubs? By 1935, the Nuremberg Laws had deprived Jews of their citizenship in Germany, but the U. S. Olympic Committee rejected boycott proposals by U. S. Jews, saying it “would be overplaying the Jewish hand in America as it was overplayed in Germany before the present suppression.” Isn’t there a danger of similar appeasement if we don’t take a stand now?
I didn’t know about that. Well, forget my point. Fuck Hitler. But I still thought Jesse Owens made a part of history and I’ve felt deep inside that this boycott wouldn’t accomplish anything. Now I do, but I’m not a political person.
Are you political about anything?
No; about the only political thing I did was go to dinner in the White House when Jerry Ford was President.
How did that affect you?
I voted for him the next time around.
You clearly have pliable feelings.
Yeah, but the next time he came to L.A., he asked if I could join him while he was campaigning and I said no, my schedule was too busy.
You told the President of the United States you were too busy?
Well, I really wasn’t, but I asked my manager if I could tell him that. I had something else I wanted to do.
A hot tennis game?
Now, don’t go putting words in my mouth. Something important, obviously.
Do you think that other than making a political point, the boycott won’t have much effect on the Soviets?
I didn’t feel it would at first. I thought it would have more effect on Olympic games than on the Russians’ aggression or their political beliefs. But now I think the Soviet people will be very upset. This is the biggest PR tool the Soviet Union has ever had in the history of their country. They’ve never opened up their country and done anything like this. And to have this slap in the face because the United States and other countries don’t show up is a tremendous shock to them. They’re very upset.
Won’t their own Olympic victories seem hollow?
Oh, yeah. The games won’t be the same if we aren’t there. We’re one of the powers. We got third as a country last time. The United States is one of the big guns, especially in certain sports–track and field, basketball, swimming, things like that. It will hurt the games.
What about the alternative sports festival that has been proposed? That doesn’t mean anything. If they have some alternative, the Freedom Games or something like that, where all the capitalistic countries in the world come and the Communist countries don’t come, it’s hollow.
What about the suggestion of a permanent site in Greece?
I can’t see how that’s going to do any good. You go to Montreal, you have political problems; you go to the Soviet Union, you have political problems; you go to Mexico City, you have problems. It doesn’t matter where it’s at. The problem is you’ve got 112 countries together at one time, in one place. No matter if it’s out in the desert, there’s going to be media exposure, the press is going to be there, there’s going to be a lot of political differences. You’re stuck with the same problem you had before.
What is the alternative?
I’m afraid I do not see any alternative. You ask me what I really think about politics and nationalism involved in the games: I say, hey, let’s put everybody in white shirts and not play the national anthems–just the Olympic hymn. But if you mention that to anybody in the United States, they say you’re un-American. They want to see the U. S. versus the Soviet Union; they want to see that nationalism; they want to be able to cheer for the home team. If teams didn’t come in their national uniforms, it wouldn’t be the Olympic games. We’re really sort of stuck right in the middle. What do you do? I would like to think that we could just hold the games and keep politics out of them, but that’s not realistic.
It must be personally disappointing to you, losing the chance to go to Moscow for NBC.
Yeah, it is very disappointing. The Olympic games are such a spectacle and it was an opportunity for me, for the first time, to do commentary, and I was looking forward to it.
Will it hurt you financially?
Oh, yeah, it will hurt me. It’s a bad time to be hurt financially. Between my marriage breaking up and the Olympic games’ not going on—-
We’ll talk about the other things in your life shortly. But to stay with the Olympics a bit longer and talk about what might have happened had the games been held: You’ve competed in the Soviet Union. What do you feel about that country?
It’s not my ambition to tear the Soviet Union apart. I just don’t like the place. The last time, I was there for ten days and I was pulling my hair out by the time it came to go home. The food was bad, the people were not open and happy. Everybody seemed depressed, nobody seemed to talk much. Maybe because I’m an American, but the impression I get is–it’s just sad.
I’m not a negative person, you see. And the Soviet Union to me is negative. I just have a very hard time dealing with their way of life. There is so much control over people’s lives that it drives me nuts. I think the sad part is the Russian people don’t know any better. Everything they see is controlled–the newspapers, the television. Anything that the government wants them to hear, that’s what they hear. I am very fun-loving; I just love my life. I love what I’m doing now, and I feel sorry for them. I feel pleased for myself that I can come home to good ol’ L.A. or Malibu. The last time I was there, I came home and literally kissed the ground. I live in the best place in the world. There’s no other place in the whole world I want to live, except right here in good ol’ Malibu. We’ve absolutely got it made over here. We’ve got a lot of problems, but, hey, we haven’t got any problems compared to what they have over there. No matter how bad we have it here, it’s better than 99 percent of the rest of the world. We yell and scream because we have gas lines, we have to wait 15 minutes for gas. How’d you like to wait six hours for a piece of meat?
What were you going to do for a whole month in the Soviet Union?
Work very hard.
No social life?
There is none, to judge by my last trip to Russia. You can’t go to a movie theater or anything, unless you want to go to a ballet. You can’t watch television if you don’t speak Russian, and there’s only one channel, maybe two, and they’re controlled by the government and all you see on there is the ballets and that sort of stuff.
It can’t be that boring. What about sex in the Soviet Union?
I don’t know of any there. Unfortunately, I never saw any really good-looking women while I was there. They can’t get good make-up and decent clothes. The girls wouldn’t go out with you, anyway, I don’t think. They’d get in trouble.
In any case, despite your personal feelings for what the athletes have to lose, you’re publicly supporting the boycott.
I’ve had time to get over the hurt and shock of not going and it’s not the end of the world. The athletes will survive. They may have to adapt, but they will survive. I think in the political situation we have today, we have been too passive a lot of times. I think that sometimes, if we’ve got strong cards to play, we should play them. Boycotting the games is making a strong move. Because I don’t want the Soviet Union to start, little by little, taking over, and, like Castro says, “We’ll take over your country and never fire a shot.”
Castro said that?
Khrushchev or Castro. Laughs Khrushchev said that. Sorry.
Then you think we should throw our weight around?
Yeah, and I don’t want us to seem passive. Because I’ve seen the Soviet Union, and I don’t want them to take over the world. I’d rather stop them in Afghanistan if we’ve got the opportunity. I don’t want my son to grow up in a world with communism. I’m in favor of doing something strong. We’re not going to war and nobody’s going to die from it, but we can maybe make some strong political points.
Stop the gunboats before they’re off the Malibu coast, right?
So much for the Olympics of 1980. Let’s talk about the life of an amateur athlete. What are your feelings about the help given to athletes by the Amateur Athletic Union and the United States Olympic Committee?
I have lived through that whole experience, and as far as the Olympic Committee goes, it gave me so little help that I could certainly never justify saying how great it is. But, on the other hand, there are ways to improve the system. There are some positive things happening. I think it’s going to take a long time to get them to come about, but with the Amateur Sports Bill, where the U. S. is putting $16,000,000 into just trying to reorganize amateur sports, at least they’re trying.
Is that enough?
They’ve still got a lot of bureaucracy to go through, but, in some ways, there is light at the end of the tunnel. But I have too many friends, up in San Jose, who are on food-stamp lines. World-record holders.
Who’s at fault?
I’m not going to be a Dwight Stones, who goes around yelling and screaming about how terrible the system is, because you do have people who are trying. But there is so much bureaucracy they can’t do anything.
Stones had to pay a heavy penalty for being so outspoken. [High jumper Stones’ amateur status was revoked for his accepting television prize money in 1978, but it was later reinstated.–Ed.]
Yeah, they got him good. They don’t have to worry about me, they can take away my amateur status. I don’t care.
We’ll return to Stones later, but let’s talk about the lot of the amateur American athlete. How good is the U. S. system?
Well, in high school, grade school, it’s very good. We have one of the best systems in the world all the way through four years of college eligibility. An athlete here has complete freedom to do what he wants with his athletic career. The problem comes after college–when there is nothing. That’s why our Olympic team is so much younger than anybody else’s. There’s no program in the United States for out-of-college athletes. They have to fend for themselves, survive in the system as best they can. If they happen to be starting a family, it’s almost impossible.
Which brings us to the old argument about amateurism versus professionalism.
Yes. I hate people who think that an amateur athlete is an amateur. A professional athlete is paid, makes his living at it. People think he’s spending all his time on it, while an amateur does it in his spare time. But it’s not true at all. I find more amateur athletes, at least in track and field, who are probably more professional in the way they approach their sport than a lot of professionals in football, baseball, basketball. I mean, take a guy like Mac Wilkins: He trains every day all year round, hours upon hours. It’s his whole life. A professional baseball player takes four months off during the year, a football player takes six months off, and they don’t do a thing. They train for a couple of months and then they go and play football and hit people, and we think they are professionals. Really, the amateur is more professional. It’s not just a part-time thing. Your whole life has to revolve around it.
To the exclusion of everything else?
Definitely. That’s if you’re going to be good. Because if you aren’t, the next guy will be. And if you want to win. you’ve got to put the time in.
But you have to earn a living while you’re training.
How do you eat? I developed that habit when I was a little kid. Christ, I haven’t been able to kick it, so, basically, it comes down to just trying to survive in the system once you’re out of college and hustle as best you can and live as cheaply as you can. It’s hard for people to understand why the Eastern bloc countries, the Communist countries, can support athletes blatantly as wards of the state, while the U. S. Government cannot do that without calling them professionals–thereby disqualifying them from amateur competition.
But if the United States wanted to institutionalize amateur athletics, it would be legal as far as the International Olympic Committee were concerned, wouldn’t it?
Yes. But it’s not high on our priority list like it is in other countries.
Let’s be fair. Our athletes in college get plenty of support, don’t they?
The ones in college are getting exactly the same treatment as the athletes in the Soviet Union. The athletes in Russia are not making tremendous salaries. They do live higher on the social standard than anyone else, which is probably middle class in the U. S. But we take care of our college athletes in other ways. They are given a car if they’re really good–
Which they’re not supposed to get under N.C.A.A. rules.
They may get access to the coach’s car, or they’re given their education free, plus spending money. There are all sorts of ways to work around it, but what happens is we have only four years of eligibility. These other countries keep their athletes in a program for a long time. There’s nothing in the Olympic rulebook that says an athlete can have only four years of eligibility in college. So why don’t they change the N.C.A.A. rules so an athlete can stay in college longer? That’s what they do in other countries. They have sports institutions, sports schools.
Is the International Olympic Committee biased toward Soviet bloc and Third World nations?
No. I think the other countries try to work the best they possibly can to get around the Olympic Committee. You almost have to compete in the Olympic games in spite of the Olympic Committee. I just did my own thing, and if I had to become involved with the U.S.O.C., I just did the minimum I had to do.
Who else can help if the Government won’t?
The one thing that has started in the last few years is the Olympic Job Opportunities Program, where large corporations hire a guy. I know a couple of guys who are doing it now and it seems to be working. One of my friends has a job with Bristol-Myers and he works maybe five hours a day. It’s not a meaningless job; he’s a salesman, goes out and does regular work, and he’s learning something for the future. But he also has time off to train and travel to meets. And he’s able to make a full salary.
But that program has only about 100 people signed up so far.
It’s a big step in the right direction.
Then you approve of corporate support for athletes?
Definitely. And maybe in the future, as more people do it, it will become more popular. It’s making it easier for some athletes who are out of college to get by.
What about the possibility of rampant commercialism once corporations get involved in sponsoring Olympic teams?
I think the only way we’re going to make it is to have corporations get involved, to work within the capitalistic system. There are millions of dollars that are donated by corporations to athletic organizations. But, in the past, amateur athletes haven’t been their priority. Who could they give the money to? The A.A.U.? The Olympic Committee? The United States Track and Field Federation? The N.C.A.A.? They just didn’t know who to give it to, so they’ve stayed away. I think if we reorganize amateur sports, it will make it easier for corporations to get involved.
What would it take to reorganize them?
You know what’s going to happen? We’re going to have to have the old shock treatment, like having a country like Cuba whip us. OK? That would shake some people up. Then there would be an all-out effort.
Among the complaints one hears is that the United States Olympic Committee seems to live for itself rather than for the athletes, that trips are planned as much for the chaperones as for the athletes, that too much money is spent on the Olympic Committee organization and not enough on the athletes. How do you feel about it?
Well, I don’t know what their financial budget is, but during the Pan-American games in 1975, I was placed in low-cost housing that they were building right next to the slums. My John didn’t work; I had to go down the hall to do it, because it overflowed the first day I went in and it was a mess all over the floor. The stink was terrible. The food was terrible, guys were getting sick. When I arrived, they were literally carrying a guy out as I walked in. I asked what the matter was with him and they looked at me and said, very concerned, “He drank the water.”
By this time, I feared even to brush my teeth with the water, I was so afraid I was going to get Montezuma’s revenge. I survived the meet, but after I competed, the Olympic Committee put on a party, and I was very nicely invited. I thought I should go. I get down there at the big hotel downtown–the “El something”–the nicest hotel around, and this is where the Olympic Committee is staying. I look around, I say, “My God, what a gorgeous hotel!” And I think, Wait a second, I just left my slum out there, with my plugged-up toilet. I come in and the party has these beautiful ice sculptures on the tables, the butter is sculptured into faces of people—-
Paid for by the U. S. Olympic Committee?
I don’t know who picked up the tab. I didn’t see the guy sign the check, but it was an Olympic Committee party. As I’m driving back out, ten miles outside of town to get to my athletes’ housing development, I remember thinking this doesn’t seem quite right; the Olympic Committee should be staying up there, not me.
Who are those U.S.O.C. officials? Other than the full-time staff, don’t they volunteer their time to help athletes?
No, to travel around the world.
You have a harsh view of them. Don’t they do anything to help the athletes?
Yeah, their heart is probably in the right place. But they are mainly there to get free trips.
What do they do for the athletes?
Mostly chaperone them on trips. There I was, a married man, and I certainly didn’t need a chaperone. But because a lot of team members are under 18 years of age, they technically have to have a chaperone. I certainly didn’t feel like I did.
Do you know anything about how the committee disburses its funds?
I wish I did. That’s the worst part of it. About a month or two after the 1976 Olympic games, I got an envelope from the Olympic Committee. Inside, all typed out, was a nice letter they wanted me to sign. What it said was, “I was fortunate enough in 1976 to win.” and it was going out to people who had donated the year before. They wanted me to sign it like it was a personal letter from me to all these thousands and thousands of people who had donated money. My wife, Chrystie, said, “Don’t dare sign it. I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll go back to them and tell them we’ll put your name on that piece of paper if they’ll put you on the committee that designates where this money is going.” We did, and the guy on the U.S.O.C. laughed at me. I said, “You’re going to use my name to raise money and I can’t even know where the money is going?” He said, “You have to be with the U.S.O.C. 20 or 30 years to get on that committee.” I said, “Well, I’ve been training for 12 years. Does that qualify me?” The guy said no. So they got someone else to sign the letter.
Between Olympics, the A.A.U. controls track-and-field events. What do you think of Ollan Cassell, who heads it? [The newly formed Athletics Congress, headed by Cassell, has taken over the direction of track and field since this conversation took place.–Ed.] Is he sympathetic to athletes?
Maybe in his heart, but in his actions–I don’t know what happens when they get themselves in these positions or what. What the politics or the bureaucratic b.s. is that they’ve got to go through, I don’t know about, so I have a hard time saying, “Hey, the guy is a jerk.” I have a hard time saying that, but the things that he said to me on the phone were very belittling.
There was a meet in France and the A.A.U. was going to send only two athletes for one of the events. They had funds for two and a chaperone. Now, I wanted a third guy to go, and offered to let the guy fly on my ticket. Since Chrystie was a stew, I could use her pass, fly standby and pay the $50 or $60 out of my own pocket. I got a telegram from the French organizers saying we could bring a third athlete, and I telegraphed back with my idea. I wouldn’t be making any money on it and they said great.
All of a sudden, I get a call from Cassell. “Bruce, what are you doing?” he says. “You cannot deal with these people directly. You cannot send them a telegram. You’re an intelligent human being. You’re a college graduate. Why are you doing a dumb thing like that? You know what the rules are.” He absolutely belittled me on the phone, told me what a flaming jerk I was, really. Well, we wound up doing exactly what I suggested, but he had to come in and put in his two cents.
Is the A.A.U. too authoritarian with the athletes?
Yeah, they try to control everything. You’ve got a problem with the A.A.U. trying to keep control of their athletes, you’ve got the N.C.A.A. trying to hold their athletes and control their meets. So you don’t know where you stand.
What’s your definition of an amateur?
A guy that doesn’t make a living–or a tremendous amount of money–off the sport.
Are there any true amateurs?
No. No because if you wanted to get technical with just about every amateur athlete, you’d destroy their amateur status. I heard there was a rule saying you could only take so many shoes per year from the shoe companies. So many dollars worth of shoes. It’s a pretty low figure, too, but I don’t know of anybody who uses that small a number of shoes. So if people want to get technical, there’s not really too many athletes who have not gone over the financial limits by the time of the Olympic games. By then, they’re in a position to bargain, because they are Olympic athletes. They have a name and they draw fans to a meet and are in a good financial position.
How do they bargain?
Well, fortunately, I was never in a bargaining position, so I just know of the other guys and how they bargained. Nobody paid money to come see me throw the shot-put 49 feet when Al Feuerbach was throwing at 70, because I didn’t have a big name in any individual sport. I’d only run four or five decathlons a year. You usually get 20 to 30 people to come and watch a decathlon, which is like watching paint dry.
What about the first-class-airline-ticket scam?
Ah, the very famous first-class tickets. Cash them in and go coach.
You were in a unique position, because you could fly on Chrystie’s pass. And you were sent tickets to go to the meets.
Not very often.
Not very often?
No. I only had maybe three or four meets a year….
For which you were sent paid tickets?
Were you able to fly on a pass and pocket the money?
Sometimes, but usually I would use the ticket. I’d have to use it because, most of the time, they sent a non-refundable ticket. I had to use the ticket…OK, it was only a couple of times, I think, where I negotiated with the guys to send me the cash, or a check for half fare. They would get me halfway there and I would get half the cash.
Why half? Because you felt guilty?
Yeah, I felt guilty. Maybe I got $100, which was good at that time. I didn’t have any money, anyhow.
Well, $100 makes a difference when you’re flat broke. But that violates the Amateur Athletic Union and Olympic rules, doesn’t it?
Is your defense that you were one of the more modest offenders?
Oh, gosh, yes. In my whole career, I may have made $500. It wasn’t a big deal. You could get anybody on a technicality.
But you took money.
I might have made $500 in my career, exchanging tickets.
Do you think they’ll reclaim your gold medal?
If they do, there’ll be a Sherman tank sitting in front of my house. No, it’s not like these guys are making exorbitant amounts of money. Dwight Stones gets $25,000 a year, a halfway decent job. Not even a great job. I hate to see a sport die because the guys in it cannot even survive. I’m glad that the A.A.U. and our Olympic Committee has reinstated the former pros, just because it’s encouraging to me to see that our A.A.U., for the first time, is trying to help build a better Olympic team instead of tear it down. Ban Dwight Stones? He’s the best high jumper we’ve got! If a guy’s broke and he’s got to go out on his own and make a few dollars, hey, help him out. Either give him some money or give him a little guidance and say, hey, you can’t do this. Why don’t you do it this way so you can stay eligible, instead of waiting for him to violate a rule and then zap him?
Simply put, do you think U. S. amateur athletes should be paid for their performances?
For their performances? No. I’m not in favor of professionalizing track and field. But I am in favor of an athlete at least earning a living at it. I’m not saying pay him $1000 for first, $800 for second, whatever they would get for a performance. I’m just saying, hey, make it easy enough for a guy out of college to stay in the sport and not have to leave it for financial reasons.
You said Stones was damned primarily because he had a big mouth. How can track and field, which desperately needs good publicity, afford to discredit a guy like him?
The track-and-field officials are getting the whole amateur thing thrown right in their face by Dwight and they can’t take it.
The shoe companies–Adidas, Puma and others–are legendary in their under-the-table support of amateur athletes. They bid competitively with them in the middle of the games.
Do they hand it out before or after an event?
You better get it before.
Or else you get nothing. There’s a tremendous amount of politics and guys running around, screaming and yelling, “I want more!” Some are earning big money
And in the Olympics, you were wearing–
Adidas all the way.
And you were paid.
I wasn’t paid. They supported my club, the San Jose Stars.
How many athletes were in your club?
And that wasn’t pushing the rules?
Yeah, but I signed a contract with them to support the club, send us money to travel. It really helped, because it gave me money to get to meets I wouldn’t be able to attend otherwise.
Do you care where sponsorship money comes from?
When I got an airplane ticket from the Olympic Committee to go to the games. I didn’t ask where the money came from.
A while back, Toyota made a deal with the U.S.O.C. to donate a certain amount to the committee for every new car it sold. Isn’t it rather ironic for the Japanese to support a U. S. Olympic team?
American car companies were approached: they had their chance. They didn’t think it was in their best interests, but the Japanese company did.
Isn’t it hypocritical to say you don’t care where the money comes from, that you’ll take it from anyone, but then say you’re competing as an individual–to hell with sponsors or governments?
You might say that. But athletes are very single-minded. They are training hard and they are begging, borrowing and stealing. They just don’t care about other things.
That doesn’t sound like the noble, all-American Bruce Jenner.
Well, I had to get that way. I had to quit the jobs I had. My wife was working. She took a lot of responsibility off me, such as paying bills and doing little day-to-day things. She took all those responsibilities away so I could spend all my time training.
Actually, you’re sounding pretty hard-bitten. As you did in your book, Decathlon Challenge, Bruce Jenner’s Story, in which you describe the massacre of the Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972. You say you wish it hadn’t happened, but you were more upset that the terrorists ruined the timing of your event. It seemed rather callous of you.
Very callous. But sports make you that way. The only way I could perform on the field was to be callous and not let outside things affect me. If I were upset on the athletic field, I wouldn’t do well. I think this happened on September fifth and I was supposed to compete the next day. I went over and looked at what was happening, then went back to my room and thought to myself. That’s a very unfortunate thing that’s happening over there, but I just worked the last few years of my life trying to get ready for this and I cannot let that affect me if I’m going to perform. They had the funeral ceremonies the next day, the day I was supposed to compete. I went past the stadium and a bunch of athletes were standing on the infield and I figured I didn’t want to stand there for an hour on my feet. During the two days I competed, I didn’t think of the incident once.
You finished tenth in that 1972 decathlon–the tenth-best athlete in the world. Yet only two weeks later, you flunked your physical for the United States Army, while the Vietnam war was still being fought. How did that happen?
Well, you see, it goes this way. My knee bothered me. I had knee surgery in 1969. I have a piece of metal in my knee, you know, from the surgery.
Was that from a football injury?
That’s correct. Walking was fine and it really didn’t bother me when I ran. But marching killed it.
Did you practice marching before you went for your physical?
I did. I went out a couple of days before the physical and started marching around. My knee started swelling up and falling out of place. It was really sort of pathetic. It was just a shame to see a tenth-place finisher in the Olympic games falling on his face because his knee was giving out while he marched.
Well, I was waiting around for the first part of my physical exam. So the doctor finally sits me down, and he asks my name and all that sort of stuff, and then he goes, “Is there any reason why you should not serve in the Armed Forces of the United States?” And I go, “Well, yeah. There’s one problem I’ve had. I’ve had knee surgery from a football injury.” And he said, “OK, let me see the scar.” So I pulled my leg up and I show him the scar on my knee. And I’m all ready now to give him all my spiel–you know, I’ve lost five degrees of flexibility, all those little things.
Had you researched it?
I had my doctor write a note about the knee surgery, but it hadn’t come to my house yet. So I’m all ready to give him all these things and he goes, “Within one month from now, you’ll get a 4-F classification,” and I’m thinking, Ahhhh–I had all these great things I wanted to tell him, and here the guy’s giving me 4-F before I even had an opportunity to tell him all these terrible things about my knee. And so that was it–I got outside, and I had to sit for about two hours to wait for everybody else to get through their physical. Here were these guys coming out, you know, out of shape, fat or a little overweight. They come out of there and the guy’s going, “Congratulations, you passed,” and he’s handing them their slips back.
Some of you amateur athletes certainly come across as arrogant elitists.
Well, Olympic athletes are elite; they are the best in the world in their fields.
Do you think they deserve the special treatment?
Deservedly so. If they were in another profession, if they were the best doctors in the world, then they would be elite. It’s the same with athletes.
Speaking of doctors, since U. S. athletes get such little support between Olympics, how far behind Russia and East Germany are we in the field of sports medicine?
Technically, we are not that far behind, but what we don’t have is the formal communication to get that information out to the athletes. That’s where the breakdown is. In other countries, there are systems to make sure the athletes are informed of the latest things.
How important is sports medicine?
Sports medicine is a major part of competing in international sport. You can get sports medicine from nutrition to the healing of torn muscles, to the kinesiology of the human body, what you can do physically with a body to get the optimum performance. Then you get into–I don’t consider them drugs, but–you get into the area of anabolic steroids.
What is an anabolic steroid?
It’s a hormone, basically. You can call it a drug if you think a hormone is a drug. It’s basically the same stuff you have in your body, but there’s a little bit more of it.
And it helps build bulk?
Maybe it builds a little bit of bulk, but you’re not going for bulk, you’re going for strength.
What are the dangers of steroids?
Growing more hair on your chest.
That’s the only danger?
Well, I don’t know…your nuts turn to wood, too.
Ever notice anyone’s nuts turn to wood?
Yeah, they keep saying that, but as far as I know, the weight men, who are more heavily into steroids because their performance is so directly related to how much strength they have, those guys all seem healthy.
Where did your friends get steroids?
It’s not an over-the-counter kind of thing. In some cases, they have a friendly doctor. It’s a prescription drug.
But steroids serve no other purpose than to build bulk and strength for a sporting event. They are not prescribed for health reasons.
Well, if an athlete doesn’t throw the discus far, he’s going to have tremendous psychological problems.
Are you saying that American athletes need chemical parity to keep up with the rest of the world?
Well, it’s to our advantage.
Did you ever take steroids?
No, I was doing track events too. I wanted to stay skinny. I was a runner, too.
You seem to have a very tolerant attitude toward steroids.
In a lot of events, like the weight events, I don’t know of anybody in world class who doesn’t take steroids. It’s almost impossible. I’m sure there are a lot of guys who’ve become really top-notch 70-foot throwers in the shot-put and have never taken steroids. But sometimes it’s impossible to do it without it. So where do you go? It’s a personal decision that a guy has to make.
But I don’t know of any athlete that’s ever died from taking steroids. There may be. You get the old guys who’ve been around a long time, and they’re fine. It’s been said that they won’t be able to have children because the tools don’t work down there anymore–their nuts turn to wood. That’s not the case. These guys are fine. It’s obviously a risk; something may happen.
American athletes do it by choice; but take the disturbing story of Renate Vogel, an East German swimmer. At the age of ten, girls in Germany who show potential as swimmers are put on pills. They may just be sugar pills, to get them used to taking drugs. Then they start the real steroids, shots, weight training. Vogel was on these for ten years, then she retired and did not join the Communist party. They took her off their withdrawal program, which they use to bring their athletes down when they retire. She defected because she became very ill and may never be normal again. What does that say to you, as an athlete?
That their system sucks.
It wins, though.
People have to decide, what do we want? Do we want to win medals at all cost, or do we want to give it our best shot? Is it that important? I got very depressed once when I was doing a story for Good Morning, America. I spent a day with the Romanian gymnastics team, watching Nadia Comaneci perform like a machine. I was not impressed at all. I was totally disgusted by their workouts. Not one girl smiled, not one girl had a good time, not one bit of laughter, not one bit of talking. The coach stood there on the side as they practiced, the coach said two or three words and they went back in line again. They did that over and over again. Yucch, I hated it.
Go to an American training center. Let’s take gymnastics again. You see young women working very hard but laughing, smiling and having a good time. Now, there’s obviously a time to work hard if you’re going to be good, and there’s also a time to have a little fun. Maybe I’m more of a fun-loving person, but that’s just the way I am and that’s the way I train. My training was long and hard. But we used to enjoy ourselves. I’m in favor of a good Olympic team. But we don’t have to go to the extent that a lot of other countries do.
Considering the way your career is going, you’ve obviously flourished in this system. With one exception: your wife and commercial partner, Chrystie. Care to talk about that?
Making the announcement that Chrystie and I were separated was tough. It really made me mad that I had to go public with it. But there were two sides to the story. One, it didn’t look like Chrystie and I were going to make it. So if I don’t announce it publicly, what happens if I’m seen with another woman? All of a sudden, they go, hey, what’s happening? And then all the scandals start. So it’s better that I get it out in the open. But it really bothered me a lot that the public has to be involved with my private life. But I suppose the public is also paying my salary and I owe people an explanation.
Especially because you did so much in public as a couple. It seemed to many that you marketed your marriage.
No, it wasn’t a plan to market our marriage or anything like that.
That’s how it appeared-the commercials you did together, Bruce and Chrystie Jenner’s Guide to Family Fitness. “The family that exercises together stays together.”
I never said that.
Yes, you did. It’s in the book. Did you and Chrystie quit exercising together?
Obviously, we quit exercising together. Actually, she started exercising more than I did. I was out working on my career and she got into running. Maybe I should have kept her away from running.
It must have been particularly tough to find out after you’d separated that you and she were expecting a child.
Yeah. We decided to separate and had already been separated once before. We got back together and tried to make it work but decided it wasn’t going to work and headed our separate ways. A couple of weeks later, Chrystie comes up to me and tells me she’s pregnant. Needless to say, it was a very sad situation. Chrystie was more in favor of having the child at first. My first reaction was that I didn’t want it.
You don’t seem like the type of person who would be in favor of abortion.
I thought about it a little bit, but Chrystie definitely wanted to have the child. We decided that we could both raise two children. The easy way would have been just to stay together and somehow survive. Chrystie and I were compatible, we got along together. Unfortunately, there was just something that was lacking. We could have stayed together for the sake of the children, but we both came to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to work and we should go our separate ways. So we decided to take the hard way out. I knew there would be a lot of criticism from the press. You know, you’re leaving your wife, she’s pregnant, she helped you get to the games and all that. But the two of us are better off being separated.
Do you feel any moral pressure to go back to her?
Do I feel moral pressure? I felt very guilty leaving Burt, but it makes you feel even more guilty to leave a pregnant wife. It’s an unfortunate situation, and the press builds it up. At first, the separation went smooth. But then people started writing gossip with no truth to it. I’m the one coming out of this as the mean guy and there’s just no way I can go through this divorce without taking the blame. But I have to go on with my life and do the things that make me happy, because it just wasn’t working out with Chrystie and me.
It’s not a simple question to answer, but why didn’t things work out? Why did you grow apart?
I think I’ve grown up a lot and I am not the same person I was four years ago, ten years ago or last year. I think I’ve matured a lot. I think it’s like an attitude change, too, where now I feel more confident in myself intellectually, where before I only had a lot of confidence in myself physically.
At one point, Chrystie and I went to a shrink. At first, I didn’t want to, because I thought you had to be nuts to go to one. Once I went, I started having a pretty good time. I started enjoying it. I started looking into myself–into our relationship–I think I took a better look at myself than at the relationship. For the first time in my life, I’m on my own. I have my own business now and I run it.
We certainly are not the same two people that got married in 1972 in Lamoni, Iowa, and we lived in a little house that we rented for $85 a month. We had absolutely no money. And we grew together, we worked very hard trying to accomplish something. We were able to accomplish that. Then the years go on. And all of a sudden, we just became different people. I was a very simple-minded person up to the games. I mean, that’s all I did, that was my life.
You were one-dimensional?
Yes. Very one-dimensional. And when the games were over, all of a sudden. I didn’t have that one dimension anymore. All of a sudden. I had to start doing other things. At first, I relied a lot on Chrystie, and a lot on managers, because I did not respect my opinion that much, just because I didn’t feel secure. I felt secure when I talked about the decathlon, sure. But when I would start to move into other areas, I would start to lose a little bit of that security. As time went on, I realized that I know just as much as the next guy, and started voicing my opinion more, taking more control, and I took more and more control to where, basically, after a couple of years, I pretty much controlled everything. I’d ask Chrystie’s opinion on major stuff.
But you stopped relying on her for emotional security.
Yes. At the time I was training, there was a tremendous amount of pressure and it could be very tough on you, and she was always that stabilizing factor. Chrystie used to take control of everything. That’s just one way we’ve changed drastically.
And now, from being an all-American hero, you’ve gone on to become an object of ridicule on Saturday Night Live.
Yeah, they’ve been ridiculing me for a long time, even before the separation. Everything from spoofs of the Wheaties commercials to, you know, “Bruce Jenner will not be seen tonight, because he won the javelin-catching contest.” Then, when Chrystie and I got separated, they did a camera thing on automatic choice in action divorces.
How do you react to that?
I honestly like poking fun at myself. It doesn’t bother me at all, it doesn’t make me mad. I think it is an honor to be spoofed on Saturday Night Live, to be honest with you.
But you’re not merely being spoofed, you’re being ridiculed–for becoming another casualty of the Hollywood-and-success syndrome.
I know, and that’s what bothers me, because it’s not Hollywood, it’s not this sort of stuff. Especially with my Can’t Stop the Music movie coming out. It’s like, I’m a big star now, and I pushed Chrystie away. And that is not the circumstance at all. Our lives have become more complicated because of the position we’re in, but it doesn’t mean that was what tore us apart.
Was Chrystie your first real love?
Oh, yeah. I only went out with maybe two or three women in my whole life that I was even serious about. Maybe one in high school, two in college before Chrystie, and that was about it.
Would it be fair to say that your sexual and emotional experiences were somewhat limited?
Yes, definitely. Let me put it this way: I never shopped around. I never have been a runaround or gone out with a lot of women, and even now I don’t.
Did that bother you in your later married years?
Yeah, and all of a sudden, I’m in a different position now. There is a lot of women out there, there is a tremendous amount of women available. Not that my whole ambition in life is to run around with all these women, but, yeah, it does make it more difficult to hold a marriage together like that.
Were you a faithful husband until you were separated?
Did you find a girlfriend while you were separated?
I found one girl that I certainly enjoyed being with.
We know you wanted to keep this out of the public light, but People magazine broke the story. The Olympic hero is now with Linda Thompson, Elvis’ girlfriend.
The National Enquirer must be outside your door right now.
Well, they are. They want a picture of me and Linda together.
We can see it now: “Jenner Steals Elvis’ Woman.”
I didn’t steal anything. He left. I didn’t.
Now that the scandal sheets are onto the story, what will happen?
It makes it more difficult to have a relationship.
In what way?
I have my private life and my public image, and the more my career progresses, the more space there is between the two. My public life gets more public and I want my private life to remain more private. No way will I let the Enquirer into my private life. It’s an intrusion and it’s pressure. Maybe a few people like to read about the juicy details, but no good will come of it.
Perhaps, but why not clear the air now?
I met Linda after Chrystie and I had separated. It just so happens it was at a tennis tournament at Hugh Hefner’s, although that has nothing to do with this interview. But because of that, all of a sudden, I’m getting this image of a big ladies’ man picking up girls at Hef’s. I have gone there for parties every once in a while, and Linda has gone there a couple of times, but it’s not like we live out there. The press I’ve gotten is sad, because it complicates my relationship with Chrystie, obviously. It complicates my relationship with Linda. I raced a car at Daytona and I wanted Linda to come down and watch the race. Every time I would stand next to her, the photographers would go absolutely bananas. Click, click, click. It gets me very uptight and nervous, because I don’t want to throw anything in Chrystie’s face. I’m happy there’s somebody there that’s close, because this is a hard time that I’m going through in my life and I’m glad I have somebody that I really cherish. Somebody that’s close to me.
If you had it to do over again, would you have kept your marriage more private?
I think I would. When Chrystie and I got into this thing, we were pretty naïve. People looked at us like we were the perfect couple and we had to try to perform like it. It puts a strain on you.
So the press will figure you and Linda to be the glamor couple?
Yeah, but we just enjoy each other. We have a lot of things in common. I spent five years getting ready for the games and she spent five years in training.
Well, she says she has a Ph.D. in life, and I can see she’s been through an awful lot.
Will you be at the birth of your baby?
I told Chrystie I would like to be at the birth of the baby. It’s ultimately her decision. If she thinks it can help by my being there, I’ll be there. But it’s a little down the line; who knows what’s going to happen by then?
Was having the baby entirely her decision?
It was her decision, because originally I thought we should have an abortion.
Was the pregnancy intentional?
Let’s be honest: Don’t a lot of people think you’re a real schmuck for walking out on a pregnant wife?
I do get a lot of that lately. Wheaties is concerned. Other people are concerned. I’m just going to take the blame for it. The press has never had the chance to take a shot at Bruce Jenner, and this is their first opportunity to get some real gossip, or whatever, or say, hey, he’s not perfect, he’s human. Which I am. I’m just a person. But don’t let the press feel too bad for her; Chrystie will come away from this thing financially set for the rest of her life. So you shouldn’t feel too sorry for poor little Chrystie. Like she’s being thrown out in the world. That lady’s going to do all right.
There’s a little hostility coming through now.
Well, at first we would sit down and discuss what we thought was a fair settlement. But since then, lawyers have gotten involved, and the only way lawyers make any money is if there are problems. So they have a tendency to stir up problems, and they put things in Chrystie’s head. Chrystie originally moved out and she was gone for two months or whatever, and then, all of a sudden, she calls up and says she wants back in the house. I said, “I’ve got to go away this weekend, we’ll discuss it when I get back.” When I’m away on my trip, zappo, I’m kicked out of my house. She said she didn’t have a court order, but she would get one if she needed one. She didn’t even tell me, and that was what I was really upset about.
It just keeps getting worse and worse, and I keep telling her she can have anything she wants. She can have the house, she can have everything. Let’s just make a settlement and get it over with. I don’t hate the woman, and it’s unfortunate we couldn’t share our lives together any longer. But these lawyers have thrown a monkey wrench into the whole thing and it’s just absolutely ridiculous. Every time I turn around, they’re stabbing me in the back. I just keep telling her that she can have anything she wants.
Are you going to have to start all over again?
Yeah. I’ve got a few dollars tucked away, so I could start my own business. I used to mow lawns to make money. I can do a lot of things. I could survive somehow. If what she wants out of the relationship is just money, she can have it all. She’s a good woman. She’s given me two good kids and seven great years of my life. If money is what she wants out of it, she can have it. And it looks like she’s gonna get it.
You don’t fail very often at the things you do. Is the failure of your marriage your major one?
Yeah, it shows I’m human. Nobody can go through life all apple pie and ice cream and live a great life and never do anything wrong. You have good times, you have bad times, and unfortunately, this is one of the bad things that has happened. Yeah, it bothers me. It’s sad, there’s no way around it.
How do you deal with being depressed?
Go play tennis. Get away. Go ride my motorcycle, go race a car, fly my airplane. Just get some of my toys and go out and find some close friends and play hard.
Do you have more friends now?
No, I have less, because a lot of my close friends are very close to Chrystie, and it separated them also.
Aside from all your other troubles, your new movie career is going to make you an even bigger target for the press.
Yeah. With the movie coming out, I’m really opening myself up to take some shots. It’s a big, big area out there; there’s a lot of critics.
Couldn’t a thorough panning by the critics destroy what you’ve built?
It’s a big risk. It’s stepping out of my area–taking a giant step out. But I really thought it was worth the gamble, because I would enjoy doing it, and you’ve got to take the gamble sometime, because everybody keeps pushing you to do it.
Don’t you think you have to get into something more substantial? Can you really rely on your Olympic fame and expect it to keep building?
No. In fact, in commercials like Minolta, they don’t even mention I’m an Olympic champion.
But don’t you have to do more than be a commercial spokesman? If you don’t show some other talent, you’ll certainly fade.
I realize that. I had four years to do it–from one Olympics to the next. And it’s getting near the end of the fourth year and I’m taking my gamble and stepping out.
You once said that there’s a price to pay for being “the world’s greatest athlete,” in that you’re being challenged all the time.
Yeah. The title is a very tough thing to live up to. The world’s greatest athlete means you can do everything.
People also talk about your image as the perfect American boy–impeccable to the point where you never have a hair out of place.
I have a very hard time. Much of it started with the American flag I waved after I finished the 1500 meters.
Was that your idea?
It was not my idea at all. I was crossing the finish line and the next thing I know, some guy bangs into me and I’ve got a flag in my hand. I wasn’t even looking at him; I was looking at another decathlete who was coming up to congratulate me and this guy is throwing a United States flag in my face. I didn’t even realize until the last second, as I tried to walk away, that he’d given me the flag. I could not throw it on the ground. I’m sure not the one to destroy the American flag. But then I think to myself, What do I do now? I didn’t want to take it around the track, but I had to get rid of the thing gracefully. So, as I’m walking along, I think, Well, I’ll put it up in the air once. I think I did it again and then walked over to my bag where I had my stuff and put it away. By that time, another flag came out. Just as I got rid of that one, another comes along.
Why did you want to unload it?
Because it was too much apple pie and ice cream, all-American and everything. Not that I don’t love my country, but I felt it was going too far. It was my victory up there, I put all the time into it. What my country did for me is give me the opportunity to grow up in life and do what I want to do. But the Government certainly wasn’t supporting me; Chrystie was. And I just felt like it was my victory more than the country’s victory.
As you came around that last turn in 1976, when you knew you had the decathlon won, did anything unsportsmanlike flash through your mind? Just a glimpse of the possible fame, money, TV, movies to come?
No, no, no. My ambitions were not to go into the Olympics and make a million dollars, even though everybody writes it that way. Those were not my ambitions. My ambitions were to become the best in the world at what I did. I never thought, Hey, I’m going to take this thing right to the bank–all you suckers out there–I got it and you don’t. That’s certainly not the thing that went through my mind. Although it makes a great article and that’s why people write about it–how I planned the whole thing out. People have even said Bruce Jenner always wanted to be a movie star. I didn’t want to be a movie star. You know? I wasn’t even in my high school play.
You’ve obviously become more sophisticated in your views since then. But before we started taping, in our early conversations, you said that if the U. S. had attempted to boycott the Montreal games in 1976 for any reason, the athletes, including you, would have marched on the stadium anyway; that despite the fact that you were nonpolitical, you’d have done anything to compete.
Let me tell you, speaking personally, if in 1976 they said the American team could not compete, this kid might have gotten a little political. I don’t think I would have stayed away. They’d have had to drug me off that track.
You’d actually have walked out, climbed into the starting blocks of the 100 meters and physically forced yourself into the race?
I think I would. If it had happened to me at Montreal, this young, unsophisticated kid would have suddenly gotten very political.