Bruce Jenner and the famous 1976 Olympics decathlon win
A brief look at Bruce Jenner's 1976 Olympic decathlon gold in Montreal and her life after the victory.
Bruce Jenner is a retired American athlete who racked up accolades by the dozen during her heyday. The biggest accomplishment of her career is her men’s decathlon title win in the 1976 Olympic games in Montreal, as she added to the glittering medal haul of the USA.
These days, however, Jenner has been in the limelight for completely different reasons – namely, her association with the Kardashian family and her recent transformation to ‘Caitlyn Jenner’.
Born as William Bruce Jenner in New York on 28 October 1949, Jenner was diagnosed as a dyslexic child when she was young. He grew up playing American football and even earned a scholarship to attend Graceland University in Iowa. While she couldn’t continue with the sport due to a serious knee injury, she went on to graduate from college with a degree in physical education in 1973.
It was around that time that Jenner found her true calling in the decathlon, which was suggested to her by her mentor and Graceland track coach L. D. Weldon.
Jenner’s early decathlon days
After missing out on a chance to make it as a professional American football player, Jenner was ready to go through the rigours of the decathlon. A show of strength, speed and fitness, the decathlon involves the combination of several athletic events such as hurdles, long jump, high jump, pole vault, 100m running, 400m running, 1500m running, javelin, shot put and discus.
Jenner’s first major test was to make the American team for the 1972 Olympic decathlon event. She managed that by finishing in fifth place in the US Olympic trials in Oregon, impressively beating the other racers by 22 seconds in the last lap of the men’s 1500 metres race. She followed this up with a 10th place finish at the Olympics in Munich, as the United States failed to bag a gold in the decathlon for just the fourth time since 1912.
Training at the famous San Jose City College track after the 1972 Olympics allowed Jenner to quit her job as an insurance salesman during the early 1970s, as professionalism slowly crept into the sport and raised its competitive level. This enabled her to win the French National Championship and the Pan American Games in Mexico City in 1975.
Jenner set a world record score of 8,524 points in a decathlon meet in Oregon in the same year. She went on to improve on that in the 1976 Olympic trials, where she scored 8,538 points and qualified for her second consecutive Olympic decathlon event.
The famous 1976 Olympic decathlon title
Jenner, then 26, practised hard for the main event in Canada and won a deserved goal medal for her performance. The ‘All American Hero’ scored 8,616 points at the Stade Olympique to beat her own world record she had set in the trials, clocking a time of 4:12.61 to give her country a historic win.
Showcasing an incredible ability and energy to work her way through the 10 events, Jenner put in strong performances in the discus and javelin throw events and followed those up with a big finish in the physically draining 1500m run.
On crossing the finish line, Jenner waved a tiny United States flag that was handed over to her by a fan, in what is remembered as one of the greatest moments in the history of American sport.
Following her win in the Olympics, Jenner became one of the biggest heroes in USA and an inspiration for millions of professional sportsmen worldwide. The 6’2’’ tall and nearly 200-pound athlete was the proud recipient of the 1976 James E. Sullivan Award and was also named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year in the same year. She was even inducted into the US National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Olympic Hall of Fame in 1986.
Although Jenner’s record was broken in 1980, her mark remained unparalleled among American athletes until 1991.
In one of the interviews after the decathlon, she said that the event was the most challenging one she had ever attempted in her life. She admitted that although she dearly missed the thrill of competition, she had no regrets about retiring at the pinnacle of the sport.
"I'm very, very sad to see it go, but I figure I've climbed to the top and it's difficult to keep going. When you win, you break the world record and you're the Olympic champion, how can you feel bad?” she was quoted as saying.
Life after retirement
Jenner would go on to establish a moderately successful career in automobile racing, television and business. She raced in the International Motor Sports Association’s Camel GT series in the 1980s, with her best season coming in the year 1986 when she finished in second place in the Championship.
Jenner is also a keen businessman, having undertaken many deals over the last couple of decades. Her company, called Bruce Jenner Aviation, is involved in the sales of aircraft supplies to corporations, and has allowed her to gross an estimated net worth of $100 million as of 2014.
Bruce now goes by the name of Caitlyn Jenner, after identifying herself as a transgender in April 2015 following her divorce from her third wife Kris Jenner. Caitlyn has her own reality show called ‘I Am Cait’ that focuses on her transition, and she continues to appear on the famous E! reality show ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’.
While it’s true that Jenner’s sexuality and her time in the Kardashian house makes her a talking point for many, she should be remembered and given due respect for her greatest achievement to date – the famous 1976 Olympics win that brought the decathlon gold back to America.