Bruce Jenner

Catching up with Bruce Jenner

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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.

source: Getty Images
Bruce Jenner is one of 12 Americans to win the Olympic decathlon (Getty Images).

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?

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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.

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Iris Cummings, last living 1936 U.S. Olympian, has flown ever since Berlin

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Iris Cummings is one of the last living members of a historically significant, global group: athletes who competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. She is the only U.S. Olympian from those Games believed to still be alive.

Cummings, a 99-year-old who still swims regularly, was one of 46 U.S. women (along with 313 U.S. men) who competed at the Berlin Olympics, best known for Jesse Owens triumphing in the face of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Since swimmer Adolph Kiefer‘s death in May 2017, the breaststroker Cummings and canoeist John Lysak were the last living 1936 U.S. Olympians. Olympic historians recently learned that Lysak died in January at 105 years old (which Lysak’s family confirmed this week). Canadian Paul Tchir of the OlyMADMen keeps a list of the oldest living Olympians here.

Lysak, born in New Jersey, turned 4 years old when his mom died in 1918 due to the flu pandemic. He was orphaned by his father, overwhelmed with taking care of a farm and four children.

Lysak got a bike to handle a paper route as a boy. That allowed him to sneak down to the Hudson River and row with homemade boats with his younger brother, Steven, who became a 1948 Olympic gold and silver medalist.

“I couldn’t swim, but I floated with a log,” Lysak told NBC Sports for the 2016 film “More than Gold,” about Owens and the 1936 Olympics. “I grew up paddling.”

He specialized at the Yonkers Canoe Club, made the Olympic team and finished seventh in a 10km doubles event with James O’Rourke in Berlin. Lysak later became a Marine and served during World War II.

Lysak spent his last years in California, where Cummings learned to swim off the Pacific beaches as a girl around the time of the Great Depression.

Cummings credited an ability to become an Olympian and one of the first women to fly U.S. military aircraft to her parents, who met while serving in France during World War I. Her father was a medic and sports doctor. Her mother a member of the American Red Cross canteen service.

She said her father, an all-around athlete, gave up a chance to try out for the first modern Olympics in 1896 to attend Tufts University School of Medicine.

“My mother provided the intellectual and academic inspiration from her rare perspective as a woman college graduate and a high school language teacher when very few women ever went to college,” Cummings told NBC Sports in an interview for “More than Gold.”

In 1928, Cummings’ dad took her to her the National Air Races at what is now Los Angeles International Airport.

“I watched Charles Lindbergh at the peak of his fame fly in the air show,” she said.

In 1932, at age 11, Cummings was introduced to the Olympics in person. Her dad was a track and field official at those Los Angeles Games.

Iris Cummings
Iris Cummings (center) competed in the 200m breaststroke at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. (Courtesy Iris Cummings)

All of Cummings’ swimming up to age 13 came in the ocean due to a lack of pools. But from 1934 to ’36, she developed into an Olympian in the breaststroke. In 1936, a 15-year-old Cummings was offered a paid-for, round-trip, cross-country train ticket to swim at a national championships in Long Island, N.Y.

“My mother had to borrow money to buy her railroad ticket to accompany me,” she said.

In a telegraph after nationals, Cummings was told by a California club coach to stay back East for five weeks before Olympic Trials (also on Long Island) because they had no money to send her back and forth again.

“So my mother figured out how we could stay with my grandmother in Philadelphia with almost no place to swim,” Cummings said. They found a country club pool, where she swam after hours while a janitor cleaned.

Cummings placed third in the 200m breast at trials to make the team as its youngest member in an individual event. (Today, only the top two at trials per individual event make the Olympics.)

“They stated, ‘You have made the team, but we don’t have enough money to send all of you,'” Cummings said. “‘The S.S. Manhattan sails in five days. Get out and raise as much money as you can from your hometown.’ My mother and I telegraphed our local newspaper, and a small amount was sent in from Redondo Beach.”

Olympic team members took a 10-day trip on the ship to Germany. Swimmers had one 20-foot-by-20-foot pool in which to train while at sea.

“They pumped the saltwater into it, and it sloshed around as the ship rolled,” Cummings said in an LA84 Foundation interview.

After arriving in Hamburg, U.S. athletes took a boat train that had swastikas on it out of the port.

“Most of us were quite aware of the evolving difficulties or however you want to classify the rise of Nazism in Germany,” said Cummings, adding that U.S. swim coach Charlotte Epstein previously boycotted attending the Olympics. “We’d heard the same rumors [about a U.S. boycott]. We were all wondering if the Olympic committee was going to take action before the boat sailed. That had come up in most everyone’s minds.”

At the Opening Ceremony, Cummings was bored by speeches and instead said she took pictures of the Hindenburg flying above. She had no fear about being there.

“The concerns were from nations that had proximity to the situation like a Belgium, or Holland or Austria,” she said. “We’ve got this passport, I know Margie [Marjorie Gestring, a gold-medal diver at age 13] and I looked at this and said, we’ve got this special passport. They can’t touch us.”

Most of Owens’ events took place before Cummings was eliminated in the first round of the 200m breast. She nonetheless took advantage of passes for athletes to watch track and field at the Olympic Stadium. She saw all of Owens’ races, sitting in an athlete section about 15 or 20 rows above Hitler’s box.

“Whenever [Hitler] came in, we could see him down there,” she said. “He wasn’t very far away.”

Iris Cummings
(Courtesy Iris Cummings)

Eight decades later, Cummings still remembered the crowd cheering for Owens after his victories.

“The whole stadium was rooting for Jesse,” she said.

Soon after the team returned to the U.S., Cummings began attending the University of Southern California. She enrolled in a pilot training program in 1939, earned her license the next year and worked as a flight instructor during the war. Then she became a pilot for the AAF Ferry Command in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, later included in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs).

“None of us thought there were going to be Olympics in ’40,” she predicted, correctly. Not in 1944, either.

She estimated that she’s flown more than 50 types of airplanes.

“There were only 21 of us [women] who ever flew the P-38,” she said, “and there were only four of us who ever flew the P-61 Black Widow.”

After the war, marriage to Howard Critchell and childbirths, Cummings continued to race planes. She developed curricula for the Federal Aviation Administration, founded an aeronautics program at Harvey Mudd College and was inducted into the National Flight Instructors Hall of Fame, among many honors.

“I’ve been flying 76 years, and it’s a privilege to just be around,” she said shortly before she stopped piloting in 2016.

Cummings still flies as a passenger with a former student.

“It’s a treat to be up there with the elements and appreciate it all,” she said. “It’s you and the air movement and the wind and what you can do with your airplane.”

MORE: Wyomia Tyus’ Olympic protest resonates 52 years later

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NBA participation in Tokyo Olympics could be limited, Adam Silver says

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the Tokyo Olympics’ effect on the league’s schedule planning for 2021 is unclear, but that it’s possible that Olympic participation may be limited.

“There are a lot of great U.S. players, and we may be up against a scenario where the top 15 NBA players aren’t competing in the Olympics, but other great American players are competing,” Silver told Bob Costas on CNN on Tuesday. “Obviously, there are many NBA players who participate in the Olympics from other countries. That’s something we’re going to have to work through. I just say, lastly, these are highly unique and unusual circumstances. I think, just as it is for the Olympic movement, it is for us as well. We’re just going to have to sort of find a way to meld and mesh those two competing considerations.”

Silver said his best guess is that the next NBA season starts in January with a goal of a standard 82-game schedule and playoffs. A schedule has not been released.

In normal NBA seasons that start in late October, the regular season runs to mid-April and the NBA Finals into mid-June.

The Tokyo Olympic Opening Ceremony is July 23. If an NBA season is pushed back two or three months to a January start, and the schedule is not condensed, the Olympics would start while the NBA playoffs are happening.

The current NBA season is in the conference finals phase in an Orlando-area bubble after a four-month stoppage due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is a factor in our planning,” Silver said of the Olympics. “It would be tough for us to make a decision in January based on the Olympics happening on schedule when that’s so unclear.”

The NBA has participated in every Olympics since the 1992 Barcelona Games. Monday was the 29th anniversary of the announcement of the first 10 members of the original Dream Team on an NBC selection show (hosted by Costas).

Before the NBA era, U.S. Olympic men’s basketball teams consisted of college players.

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