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August 31, 2012

Bruce Jenner wows crowd at Chamber dinner

Olympian speaks about dedication to sport

TERRE HAUTE — From leaping hurdles to dodging economic pitfalls, the attributes of a champion are similar in both sports and business.

A champion of both arenas offered reflections from Olympic glory at Thursday evening’s Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting. Bruce Jenner, decathlete and gold medalist of the Montreal 1976 Summer Olympics, served as keynote speaker of the event themed “City of Champions.”

“It starts with a dream,” he said, sporting the same mop of wavy brown hair that was depicted in 36-year-old photographs.

Jenner said the same drive and commitment needed to become successful in sports is requisite for business, and both begin with a dream and the courage to risk failure. Both involve “good old fashioned competition” and the resolve to dedicate years of one’s life.

“The greatest competitor you’re ever going to face is you,” he said, encouraging the audience to find the champion within themselves.

Jenner recalled he wasn’t a particularly studious youth, often feeling inferior to his classmates in elementary school. But sports gave him an arena in which to compete, as he demonstrated talent at an early age, from winning elementary school foot races to football.

But in 1968 he was a college student recovering from a football injury to his leg, believing his athletic career was finished. Watching the Olympic games in Mexico City that summer, he began to wonder what it would be like to compete at that level. His football career over, he tried track and field, finding the decathlon offered everything he liked in sports, from its variety to its storied history.

And in those early years, Jenner noted he wasn’t even considered much of a contender, not even listed among those expected to place in meets. But dedication won out, and he recalled one race in particular where he had to dig deeper than ever to win and place.

“It was the first time I’d ever reached down into my soul and found something,” he said, crediting that experience as part of the change which brought out his inner champion. “I was never the same human being after that.”

Jenner finished 10th in the world at the 1972 Summer Olympics, and it was then he began to wonder just how far he could go if dedicated every single minute to the sport. For the next four years he did just that, waking up at 1 a.m. on occasion, feeling guilty about not training enough. Training took precedence over everything else, and he joked that during this period he sold insurance, laughing that he spent about as much time working at that as most insurance salesmen do training for the decathlon.

One of the greatest risks in working that hard is that of failure, he said, explaining that once one establishes a goal such as winning the Olympics, the idea of investing so much time is always weighed against a potential, crushing loss.

But finding the strength to risk loss while preparing to win is the mindset of a champion, he said, and in 1976 he not only won the gold medal, but set the world record for decathlon at 8,618 points. The fulfillment of the victory was equaled only by the sadness he felt, knowing he would retire that year and not compete again.

After the speech, Jenner said that was, for all practical purposes, the last time he ran.

“To be honest with you, I never ran another day after those games,” he said inside the Hulman Center media room. Running, track and field were a job at that point, and since then he’s moved forward with his life.

And in addition to having 10 children and an eclectic career, Jenner said the last 35 years have found him an avid mountain biker and golfer. Enjoying one’s health and fitness can be achieved in a number of ways, not just on the track and in the gym, he said.

But the dedication and drive remains the same, in sports and in business, as one seeks to achieve in any field of endeavor.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.

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