Bruce Jenner is getting out of shape. Not so's anyone would notice, but out of shape nevertheless. "It feels great," he confides, a cheerful lad caught playing hookey. "I really don't miss it at all."
Six months after taking the Olympic gold medal in the 10-event decathalon and the title of the world's greatest athlete along with it, Bruce Jenner is having fun. He has a new house in Malibu, new motorcycles and other toys, and is understandably delighted that "I don't have to work for the rest of my life," work in the sense of a 9-to-5 grind.
Often simply a great big, albeit canny, kid, he sees nothing to terribly mar a life that has recently taken in "everything from alligator hunting to dinner at the White House." He is, in his own marvelously evocative words, "just livin' high on the wind. I don't want it to change."
If Jenner has succeeded in post-Olympic life where champions like Mark Spitz seem to have faltered, it's not due to any furtive cabal blatantly manipulating the media in his favor. He simply is a real-life version of the American dream, fairly bursting with honest vitality, infectuous health and cheerful good humor. Is it his fault that he's direct, self-assured, sincere? The type of person we'd all like to be when we grow up?
So, quite naturally, the only things that take the brightness from Bruce Jenner's face these days are "people who are always building up the money." And it's not like he hasn't signed a major contract with ABC-TV for himself and his wife, Chrystie, or that other, equally lucrative signings aren't in the works. It's that he can't relate to people thinking of money as his motivating factor.
"I've never been that type of person. I've never been money hungry," Jenner explains. "To me money just means more toys, having a great time. Sure I'm making more now than if I'd finished second, but if you put $10 million at the finish line I wouldn't have triedne thinking, 'I'm a millionaire.' I thought, 'It's over.'"
And now that it is over. Jenner has found the toys notwithstanding, that in a larger sense "the fun part for me is the climb to the top. When you actually get there, in a way its a little bit of a letdown. Where it really changes is the way people look at you. You're the guy at the top, people put you in a superman position. It's like I am a gladiator, I took on the whole world, I took on the Russians, the West Germans, that's what people think.
"It's really a shock to see the power of TV. All of a sudden, bango, I'm United States. And as a person I don't feel any different. I haven't changed at all, but now these people are looking at you."
The worst part of this is the occasional citizen who "treats you like an object, not as a person. Oh, you get so mad, you think, 'Is it worth it?'" Like the woman who interrupted a discussion between Jenner and his wife with a breezy "You can talk to him anytime," or another woman they ran across while sound asleep on an airplane. "This lady comes up and grabs Chrystie's shoulder, she thought the plane was going down or something, but all she said was, 'Can you wake up your husband, I want his autograph.' When Chrystie told the lady that would be inconsiderate, she just said, 'You asked for it when you won.'"
To get a handle on what it was that pushed Bruce Jenner from being a high school athlete who could attract no more than a $250 football scholarship from Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa, to his current eminence, you have to listen hard to what he says, "I'm very pig-headed, very strong-minded, let me tell you." When he says, "I believe in thinking positively," it's like Margaret Sanger telling you she believes in birth control.
"Not very many people," Jenner explains, "are ever in a situation where they can find out how good they can be in anything that challenges them. I made the commitment to myself in 1972 to go to the Olympics in 1976. This would be the only opportunity in my whole life to prove to myself how far I could go.As long as I lived, no matter what challenge."
So when physical problems, a broken foot and chronic back trouble, appeared in 1973, Jenner persevered. He "just couldn't give it up," even to the point where he "sacrificed my relationship with my wife. Lots of times she'd be talking and I'd be off in nowheresville, thinking about some meet. Basically, you're a fanatic, and she had to realize 'Bruce will be back in six or eight months.'"
Ironically, trying to put this in a rational frame just made it worse. "One year before the games, I started thinking about losing. I started thinking. 'Hey, let's keep this in proper perspective,' and all of a suddnt way downhill. Finally, I admitted to myself, 'Hey, none of this b.s., I really want to win, I really want to score a lot of points.' I got so prepared I couldn't see myself losing I planned for years and years and years exactly what I'd do those two days. You have to put your pri'd be surprised how many people are afraid to do that."
It's not surprising, then, that Jenner places great store in the value of competition. "I've never been the type of person who could just participate, competition is the fun part for me," he says. "I have learned so much about myself, just believing in myself, through years and years of training. Our whole capitalistic system is built on it, you can't get away from it, you're involved in it every day of your life, and athletics teaches you how to deal with it."
The competition, Jenner knows, is now over for him, and though he seems sure that he won't "need that anymore, I got all the satisfaction out of that one win," now that he has arrived he's started to wonder "If there's a reason for this. I'm not a religious person, but sometimes I've thought there must be something down the line," something like the motivational, Bob Richards-type talks he gives around the country.
"A lot of times I tried to figure out, 'Why me,' but I couldn't come up with an answer. I really couldn't get an answer."