As the movie Personal Best closes, a jubilant “Pooch” Anderson, her cornrows bobbing, stands on the winner’s block and waves at the stadium crowd cheering her triumph in the pentathlon. Flanking her are Mariel Hemingway and Patrice Donnelly, the stars of the 1982 film about women athletes on and off the track.
Two of the women were acting; one was not. A bit player in Personal Best, Jodi Anderson had already dominated the 1980 Olympic Trials, winning the pentathlon and the long jump (adding four inches to the U.S. record she already owned) and securing herself a spot on the 100-meter relay team. However, because of the boycott of the Moscow Games imposed by President Carter, Anderson was all revved up with no place to go.
Three injury-cursed years later, her cornrows lopped off, Anderson, 25, is again preparing for an Olympics. Considered by some to be America’s most gifted woman athlete in track and field, she is vying for two berths on the U.S. team. For the heptathlon (the pentathlon plus two more events), Anderson must draw on strength as well as agility; its seven events are the long jump, 100-meter hurdles, shot put, high jump, 800-meter run, javelin and 200-meter run. She also hopes to compete in the long jump, and considering that she has held the American record for the last six years, she’s a good bet.
It wasn’t her acting ability that won Anderson her role in Personal Best. At the audition for extras, Jodi remembers, “The director, Robert Towne, just looked at my legs, never my face.” By day’s end, she had the part. For a year Anderson both trained and acted, earning a “high four-figure salary each week,” the remains of which augment her monthly $400 Olympic Committee stipend.
Yet Anderson prefers athletics to acting. She practices the hurdles, high jump and shot put and runs four miles a day at Santa Monica College, near her West L.A. apartment. She continues her program at night by lifting weights (Jodi bench-presses up to 135 pounds). Comparatively small (5’5″, 130 pounds) by heptathlon standards, Anderson will compete against 5’11½”, 160-pound Californian Jane Frederick, not to mention the world-record holder, East Germany’s Ramona Neubert, who is 5’8¾” and 143 pounds.
Anderson’s coach of eight years, Chuck Debus, says, “Jodi is the most intense athlete I’ve ever worked with.” This competitive fierceness has often driven her to overtrain and suffer injuries such as stress fractures. Seeing a sports therapist occasionally, she has tried to break her vice of sneaking in secret workouts and extra runs. Her intensity has not won her many friends on the circuit, but Anderson is stoical. “Track meets,” she notes, “are not social events.” A fellow competitor implied she was on steroids in 1980, and even though a test cleared her, Jodi still bristles at the memory.
Raised in Chicago and later in L.A. by her mother, a widowed nurse’s aide, Anderson didn’t run her first race until she was 14. A record-setting high school performer, she was one of the top 10 students in her class at L.A.’s Washington High. A scholarship to nearby California State University at Northridge brought Anderson in contact with Debus and onto a winning track team. Now, armed with a phys ed degree, Jodi is considering a coaching or sportscasting career, but probably not until after next year’s Olympics.
Her delightful gap-toothed smile disappears when Anderson laments the toll sports has exacted on her private life. “I’ve never been in love,” she says. “The track life of an athlete is so short. I have to concentrate fully on that now. I want to do good so bad.”