There are two Olympic
decathletes who have had a significant contribution to lgbt sport. To mark this
month of transgender awareness we’ll start with one of the high profile
Olympians in the news this year.
The Rio Olympics next year
also marks the 40th anniversary of the Montreal games in Canada.
They also mark the 40th anniversary of Caitlyn Jenner becoming the Olympic
decathlon champion. Caitlyn Jenner has become a media celebrity in more recent
years, mainly due to his appearance in the reality series featuring the
abysmally dull Kardashians. It has unfairly eclipsed Caitlyn’s sporting
achievements. She was one of the major athletes on the last part of the 20th
The 1976 Olympics (winter
and summer) were the first in which I began to have a definite interest (due to
the popularity of British figure skater John Curry at the time - more of him in
February). I still have the scrapbooks I made for them games. In fact, below is
a scan of part of the page on which I recorded Jenner’s gold medal. I even
noted it being a world record. It was the 1976 Olympics that got me started on
recording the results and statistics in sport which has developed into my
databases and spreadsheets on all Gay Games, Outgames and Eurogames results,
and in my specialist area of lgbt Olympians.
Caitlyn Jenner has said
that the first big influence on her decision to pursue sport was not the fact
that her father was a US army silver medallist in the 100 yard dash, or that
her grandfather ran the Boston marathon many times, but her dyslexia.
At school she felt her
dyslexia was a barrier to achieving full academic achievement. Once she realised
she was a good athlete her confidence improved and the fear turned into a
positive attitude towards her dyslexia. Many times we hear of this attitude
towards personal disadvantage being the source of greatness.
A knee injury prevented
Caitlyn from competing for the football team at Graceland College in Iowa to
which she had earned a football scholarship.
Caitlyn’s first decathlon
was in 1970 at Graceland. Within 2 years she had qualified for the USA Olympic
team. Her first Olympics were in Munich 1972. No-one really expected any
spectacular results on her first games, though she did come 2nd in
the javelin section and 4th in the 1500 meters and pole vault. Out
of the 34 competing decathletes Caitlyn came 10th in the final
In the 4 years up to the
next Olympics in Montreal Caitlyn’s ranking increased quickly. In 1974 and 1976
she was the US decathlon champion, and won the gold medal at the 1975
PanAmerican Games with w world record score. By Montreal Caitlyn was the only
serious rival to the reigning Olympic champion.
As well as the pressure of
his nation’s hopes Caitlyn had one other emotional pressure. She had decided
these would be her last as a competitive decathlete.
Caitlyn finished her
career on a high. By the start of the second day of the competition her place
on the medal podium was assured. Before the final event, the 1500 meters, the
gold medal was hers. Her final score was another world record. The final act in
her competitive athletic career was to leave her vaulting pole in the stadium.
There was another lgbt
decathlete at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Unlike Caitlyn he was not competing
but acting as physician to the Saudi Arabia national team. It’s more than
likely that the opening ceremony of the Montreal games was the only time they
were in the same stadium at the same time. That other decathlete was Tom
Waddell (1937-1987) and he is now more well-known as the creator of one of the
biggest sporting events in the world – certainly bigger than the Olympics has
ever been in terms in competitors – the Gay Games.
Tom Waddell’s life and
career has appeared previously in several articles on this blog, including
here and here.
Caitlyn Jenner is
currently the second lgbt Olympic torch relay runner (14th July 1984
through South Lake Tahoe, Nevada – Sally Ride being the first on 8th
May), and the first lgbt torch relay runner to do it twice (27th
April 1996, Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood). Such is Caitlyn’s significant place
in Olympic history that in 1984 she became the only Olympian – lgbt or
otherwise – to be a torch relay runner, to carry the Olympic flag at the
opening ceremony, and serve as the reserve cauldron lighter (she wore running
gear under her ceremonial uniform ready to leap into action at a moment’s
Caitlyn’s 1984 torch came
up for sale in America this summer. I’ll go into more detail about that sale
next year when I reach the letter “T”, though I will mention that the a
spokesman for the auction house said “We’ve sold about 200 Olympic torches in
total … This one is special … Perhaps no athlete in history has travelled a
more winding road through the various stages of celebrity than Jenner”.
Who knows when the next
lgbt decathlete will compete at the Olympic Games. There’s still time for
athletes to come out before Rio 2016, and it to be hoped that we can improve
Sydney 2000’s record number of 52 lgbt competing Olympians.