On July 30, 1976, American Bruce Jenner wins gold in the decathlon at the Montreal Olympics. His 8,617 points set a world record in the event.
The secret to Jenner’s success was his preparation. In the 1970s, most decathletes trained with other decathletes. Bruce Jenner, however, trained with some of the world’s best athletes in each of the 10 decathlon events. “If you train with a decathlon man,” Jenner told Dave Anderson of The New York Times in 1976, “you can’t visualize that you can do much better. But if you throw the discus with Mac Wilkins or throw the shot with Al Feuerbach, then they’re 20 feet ahead of me. You learn much more that way.”
Although the blond, chiseled, 6-foot-2-inch Nikolai Avilov, the world record-holder and 1972 Olympic champion from the Soviet Union, was considered nearly impossible to beat, Jenner’s intense training paid off at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. After the first day of competition, Jenner was in third place, 35 points off the pace and 17 points behind his rival. With all of Jenner’s best events slated for the second day, though, Jenner knew he could pull off a victory. He later admitted thinking, “If I am within 150 points of the leader after five events, I’ll run away with it.” On July 30, the next five events went exactly as Jenner hoped: He ran efficiently in the 110-meter hurdles, set a personal best in the pole vault, threw the discus and the javelin well and sprinted the last 300 meters of the 1,500-meter event to seal a win. Jenner then took an impromptu victory lap with an American flag before finding his wife Chrystie–who had supported him during his training by working as a flight attendant–for a congratulatory kiss. Avilov finished third, almost 300 points behind the new champion.
After his win, Jenner enjoyed the unofficial title of “world’s greatest athlete” and appeared in movies, on television and, of course, adorned a Wheaties® box. He was voted the 1976 AP Male Athlete of the Year. The 1976 Olympics was his last decathlon.
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