Forty years ago, Caitlyn Jenner claimed the unofficial title of the world’s greatest athlete by winning the decathlon at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.
For the person then known as Bruce Jenner, it was at once an ambivalent triumph and a moment that would propel her on the path to becoming the most prominent openly transgender woman on the planet.
“The decathlon for me was the ultimate in what people think of as manhood,” Jenner says in a new Sports Illustrated documentary short released Tuesday. “So for me it was a good place to hide. I had a need to prove myself, that maybe that woman that’s living inside of me really isn’t living there.”
In the 22-minute film Jenner: 40 Years After Gold, which accompanies Tim Layden’s cover story about Jenner in the latest issue of SI, Jenner reflects on her pursuit of Olympic glory and how it shaped her, including her ultimate decision to come out as transgender at age 65 last year.
“I loved what I was doing, I was the best in the world at what I did,” Jenner says, “but I knew [the 1976 Games] would be the last time. I kept thinking, ‘Hold on to the moment, hold on to the moment. Remember this moment, it’s going to be over so quickly. You’ve got a long life to live after this.'”
The film follows Jenner as she returns to the University of Oregon track — where she qualified for the 1972 Olympics, her first — and to San Jose City College, where she trained before the ’76 Games. She reunites with Bert Bonanno, her old Olympic coach, and Al Feuerbach, a fellow Olympian.
Bonanno recalls Jenner’s personal struggles with worldwide fame and her own identity. “His smile was international,” Bonnno says. “His reputation was international. I think as his life went on, it became a little lonely. I think he realized he couldn’t be the Bruce Jenner he was before, and this was hard for him.”
For a long time, Jenner says, she had trouble reconciling her post-Olympics life with her past. “I was throwing out my past like it never happened,” she says. “And I’m very proud of those times. This was a big part of my past. It’s part of my life, it made me who I am.”
Jenner also says she hopes to “make a difference in the world” as a transgender activist.
“This is an issue that is an issue of humanity, of mankind,” she says. “This issue doesn’t have borders. This issue is all over the world. And yeah, I would have to say the little bit of competitive Bruce still living down inside me, I couldn’t have done it without him, that’s for sure.”
Watch Jenner: 40 years After Gold and read her full interview at Sports Illustrated.