Caitlyn Jenner: Winning Olympic decathlon gold in 1976 as Bruce Jenner 'left me trapped'

By Simon MundieHost of the Don't Tell Me The Score podcast
Caitlyn recalls how she felt after winning decathlon gold at the 1976 Olympic Games.

"I remember getting up the next morning and walking to the bathroom without a stitch of clothes on. The gold medal was sitting there on the table. I put it around my neck, looked in the mirror and asked myself… 'Am I stuck with this person the rest of my life?'"

In 2019, Caitlyn Jenner is probably the most recognisable transgender woman in the world, largely due to her family's reality TV series 'Keeping up with the Kardashians'.

Her story of transitioning from Bruce Jenner, the 26-year-old all-American hero with a 1976 Montreal Olympics decathlon gold medal, to 70-year-old LGBT icon and vocal trans-activist, has been well told.

Fame, film and TV careers, three marriages, six children and then 2017 gender reassignment all followed.

"I have the great double. Olympic decathlon champion and Glamour's woman of the year," Jenner jokes.

In an era where the debate around trans athletes competing at elite level is one of the most divisive issues in sport, Jenner tells the BBC about her lifelong experiences of gender dysphoria and the importance of the Olympics "taking the issue seriously".

Short presentational grey line

Speaking in an exclusive interview for BBC Radio 4's Don't Tell Me The Score podcast, Jenner recalls the turmoil immediately after her Olympic glory.

"Did you build up this person so big," Jenner remembers thinking, "that you're stuck with him the rest of your life? It was scary.

"People suffering from gender dysphoria [a mismatch between someone's biological sex and their gender identity], is basically like being born right-handed or left-handed. It's just who you are. It's something I didn't understand, especially growing up in the 1950s and 60s."

As a child Caitlyn says she would "sneak around" in her mother's clothes. She struggled at school with dyslexia and low self-esteem. But through sport, she became a champion water skier, a star American basketball player, then through decathlon, an Olympic champion.

But once the afterglow from the 1976 games started to wear off, Caitlyn's gender dysphoria became all-consuming.

Bruce Jenner
Jenner won gold at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal

Jenner entered therapy in the 1980s and planned to transition before she was 40, but eventually decided she couldn't go through with it.

She soon met Kris Kardashian and became step-father to Kourtney, Kim and Khloe. They had two more daughters together, Kylie and Kendall.

The marriage broke down, and Jenner once again considered transitioning.

"Now things were different," Jenner says, "and what a great opportunity to make a genuine contribution to understanding in society when you're playing in the fourth quarter of life."

In 2015, Jenner appeared on the front cover of Vanity Fair as a transgender woman, and was awarded with the Arthur Ashe courage award at the ESPY awards in America, the equivalent of the Oscars for sports.

She has been living as a woman for five years now.

Asked what her greatest achievement has been, Jenner says: "I would have to put my identity as higher. It was tougher to do. I trained 12 years for the Olympic Games. I trained 65 years to transition in 2015.

"It was less accepted. Everyone loved the Games. A lot of people when they see you transition hate your guts. Look at the quotes on Instagram. By far that was a lot more difficult.

"Being gender dysphoric and dyslexic- that's what made me down the line. When I got into sports, it became more important for me to succeed at sports and work hard at sports because of all these issues.

"I look at a lot of people who are successful, and then you look back on their lives and it's 'Oh my God, this is what you were struggling with when you were younger'.

"I don't have to sneak around anymore. I don't have to have two suitcases, one for him one for her.

"I'm glad I had all those issues. They say success is not measured by heights obtained but by obstacles overcome."

Jenner has faced criticism from trans-rights activistsexternal-link for her politics and support of US President Donald Trump.

She admits that the backlash "does hurt" and that she does read some of the social media abuse, but "wants all the other trans people out there to use their platform".

On her own trans campaigning, she adds: "Has it been easy? Not even close. I've raised about $2.6m and given it away to trans organisations. A lot of them are extraordinarily appreciative of it. On the other hand sometimes they're having their big fundraiser and say 'Oh please don't show up - you're too controversial'."

With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on the horizon, a number of high-profile female athletes have said transgender athletes should not be allowed to compete in female competitions, arguing women born biological male retain a competitive advantage in some sport - and calling for more research from sport's governing bodies into the issue.

Trans athletes claim they should not be blocked from participating in sport, and some have claimed the science around physical benefits is still unclear.

The current IOC guidelines state that transgender women must suppress testosterone levels for at least 12 months before competition - although they are working on new guidance to "strike the right balance between fair and equal competition and non-discrimination".

Jenner added: "I think they should do exactly what they are doing. The International Olympic Committee is the only organisation who has taken this issue seriously for many many years.

"Everyone deserves a right to be able to compete, and so they started coming up with hormone levels so now trans people can compete. Nobody has made an Olympic team yet.

"I think the most important thing is people that are different, people that are dealing with trans issues and stuff like that- I think they deserve an opportunity to play sports. Sports was very very good to me. We should not deny them of that opportunity. But also we should look at it closely and almost deal with it on an individual basis. But the Olympic committee is doing a good job."

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