Bruce Jenner's Long History Of Clearing Hurdles

Apr 22, 2015
Originally published on April 22, 2015 9:03 am

In an interview airing Friday on ABC, Bruce Jenner is expected to announce that he is transgender, though he has made no such acknowledgment.

As the public awaits his presumed revelations, Jenner is still invariably and glibly identified by his paternal connection to the Kardashian clan. It's presented almost anecdotally that he won the gold medal for the Olympic decathlon — the 10-event classic of track and field athleticism — in 1976. But back then, he was a glorified champion and called "the world's greatest athlete."

Today, few people even know what the decathlon is, but I was with Jenner in Montreal that summer, writing about him when his new life began as the champion.

Jenner knew that Olympic gold medalists had one brief chance at cashing in. So he carefully plotted his path as if he were to win the gold. That context can help us to understand how savvy he is in approaching what appears to be a second great upheaval in his life: his alleged transition to becoming a woman.

Winning the decathlon meant everything to Jenner. He had signed up for a manager, but he made me keep the information in confidence. He told me bluntly: "If I handle myself well, I can work off it for years."

And he did just that: It was he, of all the U.S. Olympians, who was chosen for both the cover of Sports Illustrated and the Wheaties box. Then came some acting, game shows and reality shows. Without any particular talent, Jenner became what we call a "personality," just as he calculated he might. That's not cynical — it's just the image business.

My, how handsome he was. He was essentially broke financially, but he was confident, buoyant and saw perfectly how his life could be completely changed forever if he won. Jenner succeeded after winning precisely because he did not seem contrived. In fact, he told me what was most important to him: "I'm going to stay myself."

Now, of course, I cannot help but wonder if Jenner, world's greatest athlete, had any idea then who exactly "myself" was or what he would become.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And this week, ABC will air Diane Sawyer's highly publicized interview with Bruce Jenner. There is much speculation that Jenner will reveal he is transgender. Of course, he's been in the spotlight for years now as part of the Kardashian clan. This morning, commentator Frank Deford recalls Jenner's accomplishments as an athlete.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: As we await his presumed revelations to Ms. Sawyer, Jenner is invariably glibly identified by his paternal connection to the shy and retiring Kardashian clan, where he fathered two of his six children. It's presented almost anecdotally that he just, oh, incidentally won the gold medal for the Olympic decathlon in 1976. But back then, that champion was especially glorified, invariably entitled the world's greatest athlete. Today, few people even know what the decathlon is, but I was with Bruce in Montreal that centennial summer, writing about him when his new life began as the champion. And it's interesting to revisit that moment just as his another-new-life may very well be beginning.

To put it in context, Bruce knew that Olympic gold medalists had one brief moment at cashing in - one shot. So Jenner carefully plotted his path for he to win the gold. And that can help us understand how savvy he is in approaching what appears to be this second-grade upheaval in his life. Understand, winning the decathlon meant everything. He signed up a manager, but he made me keep it in confidence. Oh, Bruce had it all figured out. He told me bluntly, if I handle myself well, I can work off it for years. And he did just that.

It was he of all the U.S. Olympians who was chosen for both the cover of Sports Illustrated and the Wheaties box. Then came some acting, game shows, reality shows. Without any particular talent, Jenner became what we call a personality, just as he calculated he might. That's not cynical, just the image business. My, how handsome he was.

He was essentially financially broke, but he was confident, buoyant and perfectly saw how his life could be completely changed forever should he win, which he did. And, yes, Jenner succeeded after winning precisely because he did not seem contrived. In fact, he said this to me, that above all, what was most important was I'm going to stay myself. And now, of course, I cannot help but wonder if Bruce Jenner, world's greatest athlete, had any idea then who exactly myself was or what he would become.

MONTAGNE: You hear Frank Deford each Wednesday here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.