Bruce and the Jennder Thing

This Bruce Jenner thing, or this Bruce Jennder thing, if you prefer, I’m not sure what to think of it. I never knew there was a girl inside that he-man body. He never confided in me that there was a glam queen in there yearning to get out. But he did have a high-pitched voice.

He was a great athlete, but also a publicity hound and I think some of the current surgical transformation has the makings of a huge publicity stunt. It’s been quite the public spectacle and I think it proves that the only bad press is no press.

I first met Bruce, now Caitlyn, in 1972. We were in our first Olympics and we hit it off, since we were both publicity hounds and liked to talk about ourselves. He was married to a flight attendant then, a female one, and he wanted to set me up with his wife’s sister. I don’t think it worked out. Big surprise there. I was sort of a maniac back then, but a good kind of maniac.

He and I trained together at times. He was throwing the shot 48 feet as a glider. I tutored him and he added three feet to his throw. I thought he could have thrown farther with the Oldfield Spin, but he doubted that he could do it and so didn’t practice that technique.

Well, when you doubt that you can do something, you just add to your lack of confidence. You give power to your doubts. At the 1972 Olympics, he came in 10th place in the decathlon. After that he vowed to get to the winner’s circle at the next Olympic games and began training eight hours a day every day. He sold insurance at night to support his family and his wife continued to work.

In 1976 at San Jose State I met up with Bruce and Marilyn King, famous U.S. female pentathlete, now a really good motivational speaker. We were dedicated athletes training for the Olympic trials. I may have even quit smoking. I didn’t know it at the moment, but the USOC was not going to let me compete in the Games, ruling that I was a professional athlete for participating in the International Track Association for money. Still bites me in the ass to think of it.

So there we were at the end of a training day, Marilyn and Bruce finished with throwing, jumping, running, and hurdling and me finished with throwing and goofing around. I think we were the last athletes standing and, of course, our natural competitive natures emerged.

Well, I wasn’t completely finished goofing around that day. I had been doing a lot of inversion work back then, hand stand pushups, hanging from chandeliers, that sort of thing. I said to Bruce, “I’ll race you walking on my hands.”

He said, “Sure, sounds like fun.” Or words to that effect.

I said “How far do you want to go?”

He said “Let’s do a hundred yards.”

I thought, “Crap, a hundred yards?! That’s a long way on your hands. You and your big mouth.” So I said, “Yeah, that’s good.”

Then Marilyn came up and said, “I want in on that.”

So we said sure, join the fun.

We lined up on the infield. It was a track and field stadium and an artificial-surface track. It was spring and the weather was good. And the three of us were at the top of our game.

We started off. I was doing pretty well, I thought, because I could do 25 handstand pushups easily. I thought, “I’ve got this in the bag.”

But it’s hard to see your competition when you’re racing on your hands. You can look backwards, but vision to the front and sides is limited. I couldn’t really tell how the race was shaping up, but I think Bruce beat me by a hair. I was glad to get off my hands and back on my feet.

But Marilyn kept going. She not only beat us hands down, so to speak, she took a victory lap around the track. On her hands. That was 400 yards. It was quite a feat, the feat of an Olympian. Obviously she wasn’t worried about breaking a nail.

Deflated, Jenner and I picked up our stuff and started walking off with our tails between our legs. We didn’t say anything. We didn’t even congratulate her. We were too mortified. We walked over to the fence, jumped over and went home.

Jenner went on that year to the Montreal Olympics to win the gold in the decathlon and become a national hero. I believe he was the first American in the games to grab the Stars and Stripes from a spectator and run a victory lap in the stadium. That was a great moment and began a tradition.

King was a five time national champion and world record holder, and two-time pentathlon competitor in the Olympics. I still remember that amazing moment watching her walk on her hands around the track. She should have gotten some sort of medal for that.

Bruce and I haven’t spoken in decades but we still have those memories of being Olympians together. I competed in the Bruce Jenner Classic a number of times. I suppose if we met up today, I’d tell him he’s ruined Father’s Day for everybody. Or maybe that he can secretly go home and dress like a man now. I’d needle him like that. It would be a lot of fun.

Everyone is trying to be politically correct about this, but he always wanted to be an actor and now he’s got a great role to play.  He was considered for the role of Superman, true fact, but it went to Christopher Reeve. In 1977, he became spokesman for Wheaties, picture on the box and all that, and is still associated with General Mills. Here’s what a company spokesman said this year: “Bruce Jenner has been a respected member of Team Wheaties, and Caitlyn Jenner will continue to be.”

That’s the thing about Bruce, now Caitlyn. He/she always seems to land on his spikes. Spike heels, that is. And when your net worth is $100 million, you can pretty much do anything your Olympic heart desires.

By Brian Oldfield with George Houde