It has been almost 15 months since Bruce Jenner won the Olympic decathlon championship, but his name and presence still generate the magic of the flag-wielding victory lap at Montreal.
Jenner was in Washington yesterday, addressing the American Family Forum, an audience largely populated by Ph.Ds. Not only did this group hang on his every word, it hung on his shoulders afterward as he doled out precious autographs.
It has been a busy time for Jenner, although he no longer spends six to eight hours a day honing his decathlon talents. Yesterday he was acting in his capacity as director of the Wheaties Sports Federation. He is also a television commentator, a movie actor, a huckster for clothing distributors and a coach in the Special Olympics. Additionally, he makes frequent motivational speaking appearances.
Jenner has been on the road for the past two months, away from his wife Chrystie. But she hasn't been sitting idly at their Malibu home. For the past month she has been traveling, promoting her book.
The Jenners are accustomed to a gogo existence and there is no danger they will succumb to what a previous speaker, nutritionist Ralph Nelson, called "lying in bed like a blob, without exercise, until you just disappear."
It is that syndrome, becoming more popular with American youth, that Jenner hopes to combat with a new sports program he devised for the Wheaties folks. It is roughly called "run, jump, throw and kick," and will be introduced to about 250,000 youngsters aged 7 to 13 during the coming year.
"It's a sort of playground Olympics," Jenner said, "using skills the child uses every day. He won't kick a football, how many kids actually kick a football? It will be a round ball, the kind a kid runs up and kicks when he sees it.
"We want to be physically demanding and also competitive. It's important for young kids to start developing habits they'll keep for a long time. There are a lot of benefits to be gotten from sports, not the least of which is just learning at a young age what it's like to be in good shape. Once you know how it feels to be in shape, you won't allow yourself to deteriorate.
"There are other things, too. For example, you tell a kid smoking is bad for him because he'll did some day. That's not enough to make him stop, because it's too far away. But if he is trying to lower his time in a running event, then he has a reason not to smoke.
"Sports is one way to teach kids how to compete in their whole life. The whole capitalistic system is based on competition. It is important for a child to learn to win gracefully. It is also important to learn how to use a loss as a springboard for growth and not view it as a crushing, permanent defeat."