LOS ANGELES, June 21 (Reuters) - Olympian Bruce Jenner, without a hint of hurt pride, swears he is happy his stepdaughters the Kardashians are outshining him, and that young viewers of their reality TV show have no clue he won the decathlon gold medal in 1976.
At the London Games, Jenner’s life as a secondary player on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” will come head-to-head with his youthful past as an Olympian who became the poster boy for breakfast cereal Wheaties.
Jenner, 62, said he will be in London to report on the Olympics for E! Entertainment Television, the cable network that broadcasts his reality show. He said that meant covering the “fun stuff” such as the social scene around the Olympics, and focusing less on the Games themselves.
In a way, his assignment with its mix of sports and glamour could bring Jenner’s life full circle, by joining his past as an Olympian with his current position with one of Hollywood’s most popular reality shows, in which the main star is tabloid fodder Kim Kardashian, 31.
Wearing a diamond stud in each ear, Jenner spoke to Reuters about his life at the intersection of sports and celebrity, as he sat in a cabana facing his family’s backyard swimming pool in the gated community of Hidden Hills, just beyond Los Angeles.
A new generation of decathletes will compete, beginning on Friday, in Eugene, Oregon, at the U.S. Olympic trials. The sport combines 10 events including running, jumping and throwing, and American Bryan Clay won the gold in the last Olympics four years ago in Beijing.
When Jenner won the gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Games he triumphed at a competition that had long been thought to crown the “world’s greatest athlete.”
Jenner said the American baby boomer generation knows him from those Olympics, but not the young women who make up a large share of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians’” millions of viewers.
“They don’t know you as an Olympic champion or what you did in the past,” Jenner said. “They know you as the Kardashians’ dad. So it’s kind of fun, there’s a whole new audience that has kind of come around.”
U.S athletes have taken Olympic gold in the decathlon 12 times. The first to win was Native American hero Jim Thorpe in 1912.
At the U.S. trials, Clay will look to secure a place on the team along with world champion Trey Hardee and silver medalist Ashton Eaton.
“We at these Olympics have the chance to actually go one, two, three - we have three really good guys,” Jenner said.
Jenner said he recently had Clay over for dinner, and the 1976 champion joked that his children thought it was great their guest had beaten Jenner’s point score in the decathlon.
But joking aside, Jenner said that because he was in sports, people think he has a big ego and is highly competitive. “No, I‘m not I‘m very laid back, easy,” he said. “There’s nothing better in life than seeing your kids do well.”
“Esquire Magazine just gave me ‘Father of the Year’,” he added. “I’ll put it right up there with my gold medal. I survived, that’s why they gave it to me.”
“Keeping Up with the Kardashians” follows the personal relationships and mishaps of siblings Kim, Kourtney, Khloe and Rob Kardashian. They are the adult children of Jenner’s wife, Kris, from her previous marriage to late O.J. Simpson attorney Robert Kardashian. Bruce and Kris Jenner’s teenage daughters, Kendall and Kylie, also have roles in the show.
What many viewers might not know is the struggle Jenner faced in the years he geared up for the 1976 Olympics.
In an age when Olympic athletes could not have sponsorship deals or agents, Jenner scrounged the funds to devote himself full time to training. He did so with help from his then wife Chrystie, a flight attendant, and his own job as a life insurance agent who was allowed to set his own hours.
While working out six to eight hours a day, he still had to sell some policies, and show up at the office.
“Yeah, a couple hours in the middle of the day,” Jenner said. “Run over to the office, say hi to everybody, touch the wall and run back to the track.”
After his gold medal performance at the Montreal Games, the amateur athlete’s life of discipline and sacrifice came to an end as he retired from competition at age 26, and soon afterward signed the “Breakfast of Champions” advertising campaign deal with Wheaties that he said paid him $1 million.
He then turned to learning the craft of television. He first worked alongside sportscaster Howard Cosell and later served as a sports commentator for several networks.
“I put it this way: Nobody has milked one performance better than I have,” Jenner said with a smile. (Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Greg McCune and Alison Wildey)