Nobody has done a better job of milking more out of a single performance, Bruce Jenner jokes.
Jenner won the 1976 Olympic decathlon in Montreal, retired after the Games and went on a gold medal celebrity run that’s still going strong 36 years later.
He was drafted by an NBA team, starred in made-for-TV movies and is perhaps better known now than ever due to “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” on E! since 2007.
OlympicTalk recently caught up with Jenner to discuss Olympic memories:
OlympicTalk: You were teammates with iconic distance runner Steve Prefontaine at your first Olympics in 1972. What was Pre like?
Jenner: He was one of my roommates at the Games in 1972. We also spent a month in Oslo, Norway, training before going to Munich, getting acclimated with the time change. So I got to know him pretty well.
I was 22 years old. I had never needed a passport before. I never expected to make it on the Olympic Team in the first place. I came out of nowhere at the trials, wasn’t even ranked in the top 10 and made it on the team in the last event [the 1500m, earning third place overall].
So I didn’t know any of these guys. I had heard of them and saw Prefontaine run, but I didn’t know the guy beforehand.
So we go to Norway, and let me tell you, those guys knew how to have a good time. I was going to bed early, and these guys were out partying. One night Pre had a little bit too much, and we like poured him into bed that night. The next morning, he got up and did the hardest workout I think I’ve ever seen in my life. I was shocked.
Him and Frank Shorter, and all these people, were having such a great time. My thinking was oh my God, they’re so happy they made it on the Olympic Team and they’re not worried enough about what’s going to happen once they get to Munich.
But then Shorter wins the marathon, and Pre had a great 5000m race even though he wound up fourth.
When I woke up on the morning of the terrorist attack, Pre was the guy who had just gone out for a morning run and told me something’s going on out there. He heard somebody got shot. He said you won’t believe what’s happened outside. He was the one that broke the news to me.
OlympicTalk: What are the overwhelming memories of winning the 1976 Olympic decathlon?
Jenner: I wasn’t shocked that I had won, because nobody had really beaten me in three years. I was the world record holder going in, so I planned on winning.
When I got to the Games, I was under this enormous amount of pressure. Not only is it the Games, it’s the last meet of my life, in front of family, friends, relatives, the bicentennial year, patriotism at its height, everybody’s got the American flag.
All that pressure, and then to go into that Olympic arena and absolutely have the best meet of my life. I added up my absolute best performance in each of the 10 events and figured it out beforehand that it was 8,678 points. I scored 8,634 in Montreal. I was about as close to perfect as you could possibly get.
It was a bittersweet moment. I was very happy to win, but also very sad because I was walking away that day, too. I was at the top of my game, 26 years old, best in the world at what I do, and I’ve got to walk away. I cried when it was over with. I thought, God, I don’t even have to work out tomorrow. What do I do?
OlympicTalk: The Olympic decathlon champion is dubbed the world’s greatest athlete. Who is the greatest athlete of all time?
Jenner: If you’ve seen my golf swing, you know it’s not me. I have to go with the current guy, Ashton Eaton [2012 Olympic decathlon champion and world record holder]. He’s doing things right now that are just unbelievable.
I’ve always said the next great one in the decathlon is a guy who’s going to have really good [100m] speed and still be able to run the 1500m. Every sprinter dies in the 1500m [the last decathlon event].
At the trials in 2012, Ashton Eaton went out there and ran a 10.2 100m, breaking the decathlon world record in the 100m, and came back with a 4:14 1500m. That is by far the best double I’ve ever seen in the decathlon.
He’s going to get 9,200, 9,300 points before he’s done. [Eaton’s current world record is 9,039 points.] He’s just a phenomenal athlete. His throws are coming around better and better, and those are the easy ones to learn. There’s no limit for him.
There are great athletes out there, the Michael Jordans of the world, but the decathlon is the only standardized test over history of a person’s ability to run, jump and throw. Those are the basics of athletics.
OlympicTalk: What was the coolest experience after winning Olympic gold?
Jenner: Being asked to be on the Wheaties box. I also never thought in a million years I would be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, so that was very cool. But it was even harder to be on the Wheaties box
OlympicTalk: What’s your favorite souvenir from 1976 other than your gold medal?
Jenner: I have a picture of me, in black and white, standing behind the blocks of the 400m in Montreal, getting ready to run. I remember being there and the intensity of the moment. I was ready to kill somebody if they got in my lane. This was the last 400m of my life. I wanted to run 47.5 [he ran 47.51]. I’m going to run the hardest I’ve ever run in my life.
That was by far my favorite picture, and it’s the only picture I have in my house of anything from the Games.