As a star of E!’s Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Bruce Jenner is aware that a large number of people — say, women 18-34 — may have no idea that he won the 1976 Olympic gold medal in the decathlon and was dubbed “The World’s Greatest Athlete.” Maybe his gig as a special correspondent for E! News’ Olympics coverage will change that. While E! News starts its coverage from London today, Jenner’s first day on air will be Friday, the date of the Opening Ceremony. His primary role will be interviewing athletes and celebs in the studio. “I’ve been preparing all my life for this,” Jenner says with a laugh. “What I went through in 1976, it’s the same today: It’s about all the pressure that you feel, the anxiety, the family, and everything that surrounds the Games, and then getting there knowing this is your big chance and you’re able to come through. It’s such a satisfying thing.” Where does he keep the symbol of that achievement, his gold medal? “I don’t really know. It’s somewhere in my house. It’s not in a house somewhere in the Soviet Union, I do know that,” he says. “It’s funny. I don’t have anything Olympic in our house — no pictures, none of that stuff. Consciously I do that. With 10 children, I don’t want to hold that over their heads. ‘Look at this. Look what daddy did. You have to live up to something like that.’ I just want my kids to find their thing in life and do the best they can in whatever they want to do… As soon as the last kid leaves the house, we’re painting this house red, white, and blue, baby. It is gonna be a monument.”
Maybe he could start small by displaying one of his retro Wheaties boxes. “Is that cool or what? It just means the last 36 years, I didn’t blow it that bad. They would still put me on the box. They did three retro boxes for this Olympics: myself, Muhammad Ali, and Mary Lou Retton, so it’s very good company. That’s the good news. The bad news is, I gotta sign all of those,” he says, laughing again. “So many people have brought up the new Wheaties box for me to sign. But that’s okay. I love doing that.” Below, Jenner answers a few more Olympics-themed questions.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: E! News will also be covering the nightlife at the Olympics. How did you partake in ’76?
BRUCE JENNER: I didn’t leave my room until I competed, and unfortunately I competed right at the end, so there was only one day left at the Games. I went to dinner with my parents. But I was there to do a job. I wasn’t there to go party.
Did you have any rituals or superstitions when you were competing?
The only thing I did is, I wore the same pair of socks in every decathlon I was ever in. I still got ‘em somewhere here. They were getting so bad all the cotton had come out of them, and I had to tape my feet the last few. I wore them in the first one and I thought, Oh, these socks work, and I just kept wearing them. They were Graceland College-issued that I stole from the equipment room. But I had no superstitions. Before the Games, people were like, “You want me to do your biorhythms?” I said, “Absolutely, no. Why would I want to do that? I’m in control of my destiny. And you come up and tell me, ‘Ohmygosh, on the day of the Games you’re gonna be on a triple low…’ I don’t want to hear that. I’m in control of my destiny, not my biorhythms. My biorhythms will be up when I get in there, I guarantee you.”
Which event are you most looking forward to in London?
One thing I’m obviously looking forward to is the good ol’ decathlon.
I wonder why.
(Laughs) I don’t know why I’d be drawn to that. I went to the U.S. trials [at the end of June in Oregon], and it was the first time I’ve been there in 36 years. The last time I was there was in 1976. I’ve never gone back. I brought my two sons Brandon and Brody. We have a rich tradition here in the United States of great decathletes, which is amazing ’cause we have absolutely no program to develop these guys. Zero. There’s nothing. They do it on their own, just like I did back in ’76. There’s been 22 of the modern Olympic Games, and we’ve won it 12 times. Britain is the only other country that’s won it twice, with Daley Thompson in ’80 and ’84. And that continues. At the trials, this 24-year-old guy Ashton Eaton from Oregon — the place was going crazy — went out and broke the world record. Obviously he goes into the Games as the big-time favorite. It’s his first Olympics, which is always a little bit tough, because it’s pretty overwhelming. But right now, I don’t see anybody touching him. It would be phenomenally good if he pulls this thing off. You can set world records in the decathlon, but your career is defined by how well you do at the Games. There are so many sports like that where your career is defined by how well you do at the Games. You take Michael Phelps. He could be breaking world records and winning world championships and nobody would really know about that outside the swimming world. But, because it’s the Games, he’s a household name.
You’re an athlete who parlayed his medal into success and fame. What advice would you give other athletes hoping to do the same?
My first advice… WIN. Don’t worry about anything else. Win. That’s the first thing you gotta do. (Laughs) To be honest with you, you can’t go into the Games thinking you’re going to parlay this into millions and millions of dollars because you win a gold medal. That just doesn’t happen. Granted, there are a few throughout history that have gone into other areas and done extraordinarily well. A lot of them you may not see. They’ve gone into the business world. Some, very few, have gone into the television world. But you can’t base your training for all those years on thinking there’s a golden ticket at the end. There really isn’t. Again, look at Michael Phelps. Phenomenal athletic achievement, and he comes out of Beijing as the biggest name in the Games. He winds up doing a few commercials, and good for him. I’m glad he’s doing those. But nobody else. One guy in the United States can make a good living once it’s over with. Most of the athletes don’t even want to go into the entertainment business. But the problem we have with the Games, is we only see swimming every four years. Baseball’s on every day. Football’s on all fall. Basketballs’s on all year long. Tiger Woods you see on golf tournaments every week. The advertising dollars go more that direction.
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