I am nearly six feet tall, and I weigh 160 pounds,” says 25-year-old Jane Frederick, needlessly adding, “Most of it is muscle.” In the words of one of her coaches, Chuck Debus, “Jane is the greatest female athlete in the U.S.—and potentially in the world.” Even less biased observers say she could become the Bruce Jenner of women’s track.
Jane is America’s top woman in the pentathlon—five grueling track-and-field events. She already holds the world record in one of them, the indoor 60-yard hurdles. She is world-class in both the long and high jumps and is steadily improving in the other two events—shot put and 800-meter run.
The memory of her poor showing in the Montreal Olympics (7th place) still annoys her as she prepares for the International Decathlon/Pentathlon Meet in Austria in May. “Montreal made me realize there is more to sports than being physically ready,” she says. “You have to be mentally ready too.”
Frederick is learning that lesson surprisingly late. As a child she attended track meets with her father, then a political science professor at Berkeley (her mother is a teacher too). The competition piqued her interest. “At 13 she performed impressively against nationally ranked pentathletes and began training seriously for the first time. Soon she was working so hard “that I didn’t notice how boys were relating to me—I guess I intimidated a few of them.”
With two older brothers and an older sister who was “boy crazy,” Jane uncharacteristically backed off competition in high school, settling for cheerleader. “That was my sellout to the group,” she says. “It gave me the kind of recognition I thought I deserved, but didn’t get, from track.”
She drew more significant notice while at the University of Colorado, winning the U.S. pentathlon championship in 1972 and 1973. (She repeated in 1975 and 1976.) Now, when not in class at UCLA (studying for a masters in comparative literature), she trains up to five hours a day, often with Italian roommate and pentathlete Giulia Monteforte. Fortunately, she says, “I have always loved training—it’s more like play than work to me.”
That dedication helps her diet too. She tries to avoid sugar, prepared foods and anything frozen. “When I travel,” she says, “I always take along a sackful of fresh fruits and vegetables, although I turned in one of my fastest hurdles times after having doughnuts and coffee for breakfast.”
Frederick’s dating habits are liberated and casual. “I don’t mind calling up a guy and asking him to meet me at a theater,” she says. “Usually I try to stay away from other athletes—some of them can’t talk about anything but their sport.”
A 3.5-average student, Jane speaks five languages and says her academic pursuits have helped her in track. “They have taught me to be disciplined, to problem-solve and to be patient,” she says. “The body and mind actually are a lot alike—the more you condition them, the better they respond.” With all that discipline, however, she has not lost her sense of humor. When men reporters ask whether she has sacrificed her femininity for an athletic career, she vamps into an imitation of Mae West and says, “Judge for yourself. Don’t I turn you on?”