An extremely thin young black man, with blue eyes and a seemingly permanent death's-head grin, is torturing a guitar and chanting something about cosmic awareness. He has a large battery pack on his back and roller skates with red fluorescent wheels on his feet, and his voice is a curious, hoarse warble. What pass for lyrics don't seem to have changed for as long as anyone can remember, and each time he finishes he grins into someone's face and croaks, "Gimme some change, gimme some change, gimme...." But no one pays him any mind, or anything else. He is just another regular along the beach in Venice, Calif., as is the woman cradling a canvas tray covered with yelping chihuahuas and the tawny, topless young goddesses catching rays on the sand. But who looks? Who cares? In Venice, when you see two breasts you've seen 'em all. On this sun-filled day, into this scene worthy of Mad magazine—or Hieronymus Bosch—a 27-year-old native of Toronto named Gayle Olinek (soon to be changed back to Olinekova as it had been in the Ukraine) comes sprinting by, wearing bikini shorts. In 1972 she was a 400- and 800-meter runner on the Canadian national track team, and last February she ran the New Orleans Mardi Gras Marathon in 2:35:12, which at the time was the fifth-fastest marathon ever by a woman. She has also run a 2:36:12, in the Fiesta Bowl Marathon in Scottsdale, Ariz. But she certainly doesn't look like a marathoner, or what we've come to expect one to look like. She's not a large woman, only 5'6" and about 125 pounds, but she has the enormously muscled legs of the sort usually only seen in marble statuary. Her thighs and calves are plaited with ridges of sinew. And she doesn't look as if she belongs anywhere near Venice beach, either. No birds or monkeys perch on her. No magenta flames course down her cheeks. And—how weird can you get?—she's wearing a top, on this occasion a T shirt. But still the natives are dumbstruck by her, specifically by her legs. Never have they seen such legs. She's running at a sub-six-minute-mile pace, faster than such calves and thighs seem capable of carrying her, and as she hurries by, a sea of heads keeps turning, eyes cast downward, mouths ajar.
"Does everyone in your family look like that?" shouts a tiny albino man, his head encased in a skintight leather helmet of azure blue.
"No," Olinek snaps, not changing her stride, "some of us have two heads."
She continues north through Santa Monica and then onto Route 1 toward Malibu, an alert eye on traffic. Her caution is well-taken. Last March in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Olinek was running along the main drag at rush hour. She was wearing a yellow bikini, and drivers were so distracted that their cars wandered all over the road. One, a silver Mercedes Benz 280 SL, was crawling along close behind Olinek. "Wow, baby," the driver shouted, "look at those legs." Suddenly there was a screech of brakes and a sickening crunch. Olinek wheeled around. The grille of the Mercedes was folded around a parking meter.
On this day, running back from Malibu, Olinek stops at her favorite Venice health-food store. As she waits in line to pay for her sprouts, bean curd and yogurt, a young surfer-type comes shuffling toward her on his knees, grabs her tightly around the legs and begins planting hurried kisses on the various muscle groups, all the while ranting, "I love your legs, I love your legs, I'm in love with your legs...." By this time all business in the store has come to a halt, but Olinek, having overcome her surprise, merely pats her admirer on the head; they both chuckle and he rises, possibly sane.
Olinek moved to Venice from Fort Lauderdale last April with her 33-year-old boyfriend, Michael Grandi, a marathoner and a lecturer on nutrition and naturopathy, which relies on nature and natural materials in treating diseases. What brought them west were hills to run on, lower humidity and more public track facilities. Olinek's only goal at the time was making the Canadian Olympic team in the 1,500, but then came a letter from Al Thomas, an English professor at Kutztown (Pa.) State College and a prolific writer on weight training for female athletes. When Thomas had first met Olinek at a track meet a few years ago, he'd proclaimed, "You have the greatest legs to ever stride the earth." And now, having heard of Olinek's move to Southern California, he urged her to enter a bodybuilding contest. But Olinek wasn't even sure what bodybuilding was. She thought it had something to do with grunting up barbells on a stage. At the Venice area gyms, though, where Mr. (and, now, Ms.) Americas train, they knew all about Olinek.
For the preceding year Stacey Bentley, the most successful competitor in women's bodybuilding, had kept a picture of Olinek, one that emphasized those legs, pinned to the wall in her Venice apartment. When people asked why it was there, Bentley would say, "For inspiration."
On May 11, in the Pepsi Invitational Track Meet at UCLA, Olinek ran the 1,500 in 4:29.2, which qualified her for the Canadian Olympic Trials in mid-June. About that time she also was invited to compete in the Frank Zane Women's Invitational Bodybuilding Championships, to be held on June 28 in Santa Monica. When Zane, a three-time Mr. Olympia, had first seen Olinek at Venice's World Gym, he'd told her, "From the lower chest down you're fantastic." In addition to her muscular legs, Olinek has "washboard abs" (deeply ridged abdominal muscles) as a result of a training regime that had long included doing as many as 2,000 bent-knee situps a day. Zane prescribed a weightlifting routine for Olinek's upper body, and after the news came in mid-May that Canada would boycott the Moscow Olympics, Olinek says, "I decided to go crazy with weights for the contest." At the same time she had decided to keep training for the Peachtree Classic, a 10-km. race in Atlanta on July 4, only six days after the bodybuilding contest.
In the weeks approaching her "doubleheader" Olinek woke each morning at 4:45 and poured eight ounces of water into a blender, along with four tablespoonsful of primary yeast and the juice of a lemon. "It gets my blood sugar up," she claimed to those who screwed up their faces at the thought of it. Then she and Grandi would slog five miles in the soft sand to Santa Monica before doubling back to Venice on grass and roads at a sub-six-minute pace. Or they would take a bus to UCLA for speed work. One morning, as she prepared to leave UCLA's Drake Stadium, Olinek began conversing with a man who'd been leaning back as he ran around the track. "Ever have pain there?" she asked, pointing to his lower back, having noticed a slight curve in his spine.
"Yes," he said. "All the time."