Forget all the sensationalism, the acrylic nails and the reality show. This is Caitlyn Jenner at her most vulnerable and real, proving she still has the same internal drive and dedication that led to her becoming one of the most legendary sports figures of our time. Here we are, 40 years later as she looks back with Sports Illustrated.
Caitlyn Jenner Reflects on Olympian Decathlete Bruce
In 1976, Bruce Jenner won gold in the Olympic decathlon. Today, Caitlyn Jenner shares with Sports Illustrated her personal feelings about how she felt about the person that was living inside her then.
Below is an excerpt from the story that appears in the July 4–11 edition of Sports Illustrated. The photos are stills if it’s hip, it’s here pulled and color-corrected from their short film shown at the end of the post.
“C’mere.” From a tall, upholstered stool in the kitchen of her hilltop Malibu home, Caitlyn Jenner stands and smacks my shoulder with her right hand while swiveling her chin toward a hallway. Her shoulder-length brown hair flips hurriedly across her face, as if in pursuit. She takes a few long strides, turns left and walks through her bedroom-sized closet, into the bathroom and to a vanity, with two stacks of lightbulbs flanking a mirror. She bends to open the middle of three drawers, where a white plastic, zippered cosmetics case decorated with a pattern of a woman’s lips sits on top. She snatches the case and tosses it onto the vanity and retrieves the item below, a wooden box stained dark red, wrapped in a brown leather sleeve and embossed with the logo of the 1976 Summer Olympic Games.
“Here it is,” says Jenner. “In my nail drawer. That’s what you can say: It was in the nail drawer.”
Jenner has been performing in public for much of her adult life; she understands the impact of spoken words, the way they make some people smile and others seethe, the way they peel back layers, eliciting affirmation or exposing intolerance. Most of her words do this, especially now, as do most of her actions, including drawing breath.
The 66-year-old Jenner slides off the sleeve and flips open the lid, revealing the gold medal she earned 40 years ago for winning the Olympic decathlon, with a score that would be competitive for a place on the 2016 U.S. team to be selected this week. (Think about that.)
The medal is imperfectly round, with rough, sculpted edges, nestled in felt and attached to a metal chain. It’s the same chain that was draped around Jenner’s neck on the night of July 30, 1976, at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, the same medal that Jenner lightly kissed before turning and seeing the American flag raised and hearing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Now as quickly as she had retrieved and displayed the medal, she snaps the box shut, wraps the sleeve around it, drops it back in the nail drawer and sets the plastic case on top.
Jenner has a complex relationship with the medal in the bathroom, in the drawer, in the box beneath the plastic case. It commemorates extraordinary work that allowed her to withstand the pain of what is now called gender dysphoria but then was seldom talked about at all.
“The decathlon,” she says, “was the perfect distraction.”
A decathlon victory is a rare achievement—there are only 22 Olympic gold medalists (12 American)—but to Jenner it can at times feel insignificant. It represents one of the greatest moments of her life, yet her life is different now.
“Sports. It’s not real life,” she says. “You go out there, you work hard, you train your ass off, win the Games. I’m very proud of that part of my life. And it’s not like I just want to throw it out. It’s part of who I am. What I’m dealing with now, this is about who you are as a human being. What did I do for the world in 1976, besides maybe getting a few people to exercise a little bit? I didn’t make a difference in the world.”
The medal has been sometimes in a drawer and sometimes in a safe, but never on display. Years passed when she didn’t even look at it. “The medal,” says Jenner. And then she shrugs. “It was great for the kids at show-and-tell.”
It’s true: the Olympic Games are play, and life is real. A medal rewards great achievement, but ultimately it’s just a paperweight. But. But. But: What if there is no medal?
If there is no medal, a 26-year-old athlete named Bruce Jenner, who presents and competes as male (but even then, and long before, feels strongly that he is female), does not leave Montreal famous, does not get stopped on the streets of New York City for autographs, does not become a (useful) broadcaster and (painfully bad but well-paid) actor, does not become comfortably wealthy (and eventually not, and then wealthy again).
If there is no medal, Jenner probably does not, after two divorces, marry Kris Kardashian in 1991 and become a player in one of the most popular reality television series in history.
If there is no medal, Jenner does not, at 65, attract an audience of more than 17 million for a prime-time special in April 2015 when she announces to ABC’s Diane Sawyer that she will soon complete the transition to living as a woman; and does not, two months later, pose languorously on the cover of Vanity Fair in a corseted silk bodysuit and on the day of its release accumulate more than one million Twitter followers in four hours—faster than President Obama, the previous record holder.
If there is no medal, she does not launch her own reality series on E! network last July, I Am Cait, which details her life in transition.
Read the remainder of the article here
A Look Back
The August 9th, 1976 issue of Sports Illustrated cover story on Bruce Jenner
images, screen grabs, video and article excerpt courtesy of Sports Illustrated