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Joe Marshall
November 21, 1977
Jane Frederick is No. 1 pentathlete in the U.S., but she wants to be first in the world—and to score 5,000 points
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November 21, 1977

Plainly, Jane Has A Penchant For The Pentathlon

Jane Frederick is No. 1 pentathlete in the U.S., but she wants to be first in the world—and to score 5,000 points

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Of the 30,000 students on UCLA's Westwood campus, just five were enrolled last spring in Italian 220C, a graduate-level offering entitled "Italian 20th Century Literature: Contemporary Fiction." The professor, P. M. Pasinetti, is himself a noted contemporary Italian novelist, and the course might have attracted more interest but for the fact that Pasinetti conducts his classes entirely in Italian. Four of his five students had already earned master's degrees at UCLA, were serving as teaching assistants there and were preparing to take Ph. D. oral exams within the next year. The fifth student, Jane Wardwell Frederick, had just begun work toward a master's in comparative literature, but her academic credentials were in order. A summa cum laude graduate in Italian from the University of Colorado, she is a polyglot scholar who also speaks German and is learning Russian. In addition, she has taken two semesters of Chinese. Yet, in Frederick's case, her academic accomplishments are incidental to her fame. Jane Frederick is the finest female track and field athlete in America and while at UCLA she is also working to earn recognition as the No. 1 woman athlete in the world.

Frederick competes in the pentathlon, a two-day women's event consisting of the 100-meter hurdles, the shotput and the high jump on the first day, and the long jump and 800-meter run on the second. It is the only multiple event in women's track and field. Surely, if Bruce Jenner, the decathlon gold medalist at Montreal, can grace every box of Wheaties as the epitome of male athleticism, then the No. 1 pentathlete must be considered the finest female athlete.

Among the world's active pentathletes Frederick has the fifth-best performance of the year. She could run, jump and throw her way to the top overnight by becoming the first woman to exceed 5,000 points. That total is the pentathlon's magic milestone, the equivalent of what four minutes once was to the mile. The former world record of 4,932 was set in 1973 by Burglinde Pollak of East Germany, who competed under the old format (with a 200-meter sprint instead of the 800). The currently recognized world record in the new pentathlon—4,839—was established last summer by Nadyezhda Tkachenko of the Soviet Union. Frederick's best mark of 4,677 was achieved in May 1976 when she won the national (old format) pentathlon title in Santa Barbara, Calif. Last August, at the University Games in Sofia, Bulgaria, she set the currently recognized U.S. record of 4,625, with the 800 meters. No American has come within 250 points of Frederick's mark.

In fact, she has pretty much dominated the event in this country since 1972, when she won the first of her four national titles. She did not compete in 1974 because she was in Italy and this year she had to pass up the championship competition because of an injury. In addition, in 1975 and 1976 Frederick was the U.S. 100-meter hurdles champion, and in Sofia she set an American 100-meter hurdles record of 13.24 during the pentathlon. Last winter she won the national AAU indoor hurdles championship, setting a world record of 7.3 seconds for 60 yards. She also set an American record at 50 yards (6.3).

Standing on the track at UCLA's Drake Stadium, the one thing Jane Frederick does not resemble is what one might expect a student in Italian 220C to look like. Her shoulders are wide and muscular; she can bench-press 205 pounds. Her 5'11", 157-pound body tapers to a 28" waist and she has long, powerful legs.

For Frederick, that body has taken on a separate identity, like a race driver's car or a jockey's horse. For it to meet her expectations her body must be endlessly coddled, nourished and fine-tuned. "In a multiple event like the pentathlon you need more than raw talent," Frederick says. "You have to be conscious of the proportions of your body, yet so few American athletes are. A pentathlete, for instance, can't have the hamstrings of a hurdler because they wouldn't do for the distance race. The preparation of your body is so important because that's what has to perform."

Frederick admits that nonetheless her shape can cause problems. She cannot wear women's clothes and she even has trouble fitting her shoulders into men's shirts. "Everybody who approaches me from behind calls me sir," she says, smiling indulgently. Once, in New Orleans, a myopic headwaiter, who was viewing her head on, refused her admittance to a restaurant because she wasn't wearing the jacket required of all men.

Inevitably, her muscles provoke comment; just as inevitably, some of it is derogatory. Yet most reactions are admiring. "I think her body's beautiful," says Mac Wilkins, the 1976 Olympic gold medalist and world-record holder in the discus. "Most American women are marshmallows—physically, mentally and emotionally."

Dr. Leroy Perry Jr., a Los Angeles chiropractor who treats many top athletes and whom Frederick visits weekly, is more clinical in his appraisal. "Jane is functioning at about 75% to 80% in terms of body balance and coordination, and in terms of muscle response," he says. "The average person functions somewhere between 50% and 55%. I see Jane as a kind of high-performance gazelle with incredible amounts of strength and form. She is Mac Wilkins, Wilt Chamberlain and Bruce Jenner all put together on a woman's form."

Frederick is herself an admirer of Frederick. "I love my body," she says. "I've always liked being different. My body is different and I love it, every part of it. I particularly love my shoulders because they are unique."

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