Friday, July 30, 2010

July 30, 1976: Keeping up with ... Bruce

MONTREAL - In today's pop culture society, it's surprisingly easy for somebody to become famous despite having no discernable talent, in essence, becoming famous for being famous.

A perfect example of this is the Kardashians. If you ask people why Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney are famous, they'd probably say because of their reality series. OK, fine. But why were they famous enough to warrant their own reality series? There's the question. They somehow became famous without anybody really knowing why.

Their stepfather, however, earned his fame. Bruce Jenner finished 10th in the decathlon at the 1972 Olympics, then completely dedicated himself to improving for the 1976 games in Montreal. He put all his efforts towards training, spending eight hours a day at a training center in San Jose. His training regimine at San Jose was so well-known that the city became a hotbed for training elite athletes.

The extra work started to pay off, as Jenner was the American champion in the decathlon in both 1974 and 1976. Entering the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, he was expected to be in a medal battle with the Soviet Union's Nikolai Avilov, who had set a world record in the 1972 games, and future world record holder Guido Kratschmer of West Germany.

The first day of the decathlon ended with the 400 meter run, during which ABC cameras caught all of Jenner's emotions and strain in slow motion, a shot that became one of the iconic shots in Olympic history. Jenner ended the first day in third place, behind Kratschmer and Avilov. He had said earlier that he felt he could be as low as sixth after the first day and still win, so he was excited about his prospects.

On day 2, July 30, Jenner made his move. Kratschmer fell to third place after the discus, with Avilov and Jenner each moving up a spot. Jenner took the lead after the pole vault, with Avilov falling to third and Kratschmer rising to second. Jenner extended his lead after the javelin, leaving only the 1,500 meter run left.

The only real drama left for the 1,500 was whether Jenner would set the world record. After three laps, comfortably in second place, it seemed Jenner would be satisfied with simply a gold medal. But then the bell sounded, signifying the last lap, and Jenner took off. Television viewers were transfixed, watching as a man who should have been exhausted instead pushed on with a final burst of speed, knowing exactly what time he needed to get to set the world record. When Jenner crossed the finish line, he looked up at the scoreboard and saw he had it. And his fame was forever ensured.

Highlights from the second day of the decathlon

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