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In the 14 months since Bruce Jenner won the decathlon gold medal at the Montreal Olympics, he has become a product, boxed, packaged and marketed by a regiment of specialists. Hollywood gave him a screen test. Television introduced him to cue cards. Madison Avenue signed him up. At his speaking engagements, business executives weep unabashedly as he speaks of the hardships he overcame during training. He has even become a master at imbuing the most inane interview with charm and wit. Jenner has been coiffed, polished and groomed, then run up the flagpole to see if anybody would salute. They would—and do. Just check your local listings.
On the evening of July 30, 1976, Jenner burst across the finish line in Montreal to complete the decathlon's final event, the 1,500-meter run. His arms were upraised and a scream was on his lips, celebrating both victory and a world record of 8,618 points. The four-year pilgrimage was over. Jenner walked out of the stadium a different person, disdaining even to pick up his vaulting poles. Never again would he need them.
Jenner now is as absorbed in ledgers and balance sheets as he once was in the decathlon scoring tables, but he is still in a race for the gold. According to conservative predictions his income for 1977 will be more than $500,000. Jenner and his wife Chrystie no longer have to worry about the price of dog food for their golden Labrador Bertha. They are living in a beautiful house in Malibu, one of the addresses in Los Angeles, but are looking for better digs in the neighborhood. Jenner drives a $35,000 Porsche Turbo Carrera and has three motorcycles. He earns as much as $5,000 for a speech; the photograph showing him with arms upraised in victory is on the front of Wheaties boxes the world over; his autobiography, Decathlon Challenge, has already sold 20,000 copies. Soon you will be able to dress in a Bruce Jenner line of clothing. He has a budding career with ABC-TV as a sports commentator, and if Hollywood needs a new Six Million Dollar Man, Jenner is interested. All of this recalls the moment in Montreal when Jenner knew for certain that he would win the decathlon. He lay down in the infield after scoring 15'9" in the pole vault, put a towel over his face and cried tears of joy and relief. Leonid Litvinyenko, a Russian decathlete, walked over to him, raised the towel and said with a wry grin, "Bruce, you going to be millionaire?" Jenner laughed.
Nadia Comaneci being unavailable for promotional purposes, Jenner has become the Montreal Games' most marketable hero. Not all Olympic superstars have been able to cash in on their fame. Jesse Owens, Johnny Weissmuller, Sonja Henie and Bob Mathias have had varying degrees of success, but many have flopped, most conspicuously Mark Spitz, who won seven gold medals at Munich but was a fish out of water on television both as an actor and doing commercials.
Now 27 and living in Los Angeles, Spitz said recently, "I'd rather say I was a has-been than a never-was." He still has a few endorsements, mostly for swimming gear, is involved in industrial real estate and is writing a book, as well as periodically denying rumors that his marriage is breaking up. "Things are going well. Life isn't a bowl of cherries, but I look forward to solving any difficulties I run into. I can't complain. The reports of marital problems are totally false. I wish everybody could be as happily married as I am."
One morning this June, Jenner is sitting in the copilot's seat of a small plane taxiing onto the runway at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. "Listen to the jets," he shouts over the roar. "It's the same feeling you want at the starting line! Vrrrooom..."
He is on his way to North Webster, Ind., a little town between South Bend and Fort Wayne—a community so remote, says J. Homer Shoop, that there is no bus or railway service into it. Shoop is a 64-year-old North Webster banker who heads the International Palace of Sports, a hall of fame that is honoring Jenner today as its King of Sports. A big crowd is expected. Shoop says that North Webster is smack in the middle of a summer-resort area and that last Saturday night 500 people showed up for a chicken barbecue and square dance. Vrrrooom!
Jenner looks a bit alarmed when he hears this. He is not too clear what is to take place today, except that Chrystie is looking forward to seeing a picture of him with a crown on his head. It has been a typically busy week. On Sunday he did the commentary for ABC at a moto-cross event in Carlsbad, Calif. On Monday he spoke before a group of university athletic directors in Las Vegas. On Tuesday he spoke at a luncheon in Los Angeles to promote the Watts Summer Games, for which he is honorary chairman. Later that day there was a round of interviews and an evening appearance before a group of business executives. Then an all-night flight to Chicago, a few hours' sleep in a motel room, and now it is Wednesday and he is somewhere over Indiana. "I just show up at the airport, pick up my ticket and go where it says," Jenner says. "It all works out." In May, he was home three days.
At the Warsaw, Ind. airport there is a mobile home waiting and the Jenner party piles aboard. A police car, its siren making cows look up from their grazing, escorts the mobile home to the Lake Tippecanoe Country Club where the award luncheon will take place. "Out here is my part of the country," says Jenner to Shoop. "I grew up in a small town in Connecticut and went to a school in a small town in Iowa." Jenner always says the right things to people. When strangers first meet him, they expect him to wink, to show that he is only putting them on. How can one man embody so much good? But he is genuinely wholesome and exuberant; when a fashion photographer shot him recently, the impulsive Jenner stood on his hands in the studio. Lynn Swann, the wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jenner's close friend, likes to taunt him by telling sportswriters, "Bruce pours tequila on his Wheaties." However, Swann also notes that when Jenner drank too much white lightning at a party celebrating his new Malibu home, he was so remorseful that he and his Lab Bertha left the party and headed off to a nearby track where he ran two miles.
It turns out, however, that Homer Shoop is not what he at first seems to be. With Gardnar Mulloy he won the 1960 national Public Parks senior doubles title. He is also entranced with the legend of Camelot, and his hall of fame at North Webster looks like a castle, complete with turrets and what might pass for a moat. In fact, much of downtown North Webster is quasi-Arthurian. The Double Dip 'N Dunk It, a doughnut shop, lacks only a drawbridge, and The Rusty Armor Bakery and the Princess Beauty Parlor are big on medieval embellishments. Besides Jenner's coronation, two local youths who have won area sports competitions are to be knighted as Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad.