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Bruce Jenner: Insurance salesman turned star athlete (1976)

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PEOPLE Bruce Jenner and wife Chrystie
Bruce Jenner at the 1976 Olympics: Go, Bruce — Please go!

The tears came to Chrystie Jenner as soon as the 1,500-meter decathlon race began. She had watched her husband, Bruce, get ready for that moment ever since she met him six years ago at little Graceland College in Iowa.

She had endured the times when the grind of the decathlon made him moody and remote, and she had shared his disappointment when he failed four years earlier in Munich.

Now Bruce Jenner, 26, was 1,500 meters away from the Olympic gold medal and the wildest cheers of the track-and-field competition in Montreal. And his blonde wife was terrified.

“You’re going too slow, Bruce,” she screamed through the tears as he passed her the first time. “Go, Bruce, please go.”

Jenner, his long brown hair flowing, pushed on — running away from the nervousness that he felt at the start. Jenner knew he was gambling. Comfortably ahead after nine events, he needed only a safe effort to clinch the gold.

But he wanted more. “It was my last meet,” he said later, “and I wanted a world record.”

To do that he had to run the fastest 1,500 of his life — and that meant risking an exhausted collapse that could have robbed him of his medal and the extravagant title that traditionally goes with it — “the world’s greatest all-around athlete.”

The dangers faded after one lap. Riding the crest of the noise and the American flags waving in the stands, Bruce Jenner grew more powerful with every stride. “The more I picked up the pace,” he said, “the better it felt. I couldn’t have slowed down if I had wanted to. At the end, I looked at the clock and saw I had the record. It was the happiest moment of my life.”

Bruce Jenner Insurance salesman turned star athlete (1976)

Bruce Jenner’s victory scene

Jenner’s total of 8,618 points topped his own world decathlon record by an astonishing 94 points. But the stark numbers were quickly overshadowed by the frenzied stadium scene.

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First, there was the victory lap. A kid jumped from the stands and handed Jenner a flag. Then he jogged over to Chrystie and held her for a long minute before he walked off toward the victory ceremony.

The Jenners, who live in San Jose, California, approached Bruce’s greatest moment as a team.

Bruce sells insurance as a part-time business, but his main trade is track practice. Chrystie works as an airline stewardess to help support them, and Bruce freely expresses his gratitude.

Chrystie also helps by putting up with such symbols of dedication as the hurdle that Bruce keeps in the living room so that he can practice his technique every night.

“Bruce needs me, and that’s fulfilling,” Chrystie wrote in her diary last week. “But it’s also kind of scary, because he may be drawing too much from me. And on the track, he’s got to do it alone.”

Because the decathlon attracts scant attention in non-Olympic times, the “greatest athlete” sometimes fades quickly from sight.

Bruce Jenner will change that. With his handsome face radiating the strain and fierce emotion of his quest, Bruce became an instant television star during the Games. That will undoubtedly help him cash in his title for some commercial income. But last week those prospects seemed vague and distant.

“The biggest payoff for me,” said Chrystie Jenner, “was just seeing Bruce’s face as he crossed the finish line.”

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