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Original Issue


Jane Frederick is No. 1 pentathlete in the U.S., but she wants to be first in the world—and to score 5,000 points

Of the 30,000 students on UCLA's Westwood campus, just five were enrolled last spring in Italian 220C, a graduate-level offering entitled "Italian 20th Century Literature: Contemporary Fiction." The professor, P. M. Pasinetti, is himself a noted contemporary Italian novelist, and the course might have attracted more interest but for the fact that Pasinetti conducts his classes entirely in Italian. Four of his five students had already earned master's degrees at UCLA, were serving as teaching assistants there and were preparing to take Ph. D. oral exams within the next year. The fifth student, Jane Wardwell Frederick, had just begun work toward a master's in comparative literature, but her academic credentials were in order. A summa cum laude graduate in Italian from the University of Colorado, she is a polyglot scholar who also speaks German and is learning Russian. In addition, she has taken two semesters of Chinese. Yet, in Frederick's case, her academic accomplishments are incidental to her fame. Jane Frederick is the finest female track and field athlete in America and while at UCLA she is also working to earn recognition as the No. 1 woman athlete in the world.

Frederick competes in the pentathlon, a two-day women's event consisting of the 100-meter hurdles, the shotput and the high jump on the first day, and the long jump and 800-meter run on the second. It is the only multiple event in women's track and field. Surely, if Bruce Jenner, the decathlon gold medalist at Montreal, can grace every box of Wheaties as the epitome of male athleticism, then the No. 1 pentathlete must be considered the finest female athlete.

Among the world's active pentathletes Frederick has the fifth-best performance of the year. She could run, jump and throw her way to the top overnight by becoming the first woman to exceed 5,000 points. That total is the pentathlon's magic milestone, the equivalent of what four minutes once was to the mile. The former world record of 4,932 was set in 1973 by Burglinde Pollak of East Germany, who competed under the old format (with a 200-meter sprint instead of the 800). The currently recognized world record in the new pentathlon—4,839—was established last summer by Nadyezhda Tkachenko of the Soviet Union. Frederick's best mark of 4,677 was achieved in May 1976 when she won the national (old format) pentathlon title in Santa Barbara, Calif. Last August, at the University Games in Sofia, Bulgaria, she set the currently recognized U.S. record of 4,625, with the 800 meters. No American has come within 250 points of Frederick's mark.

In fact, she has pretty much dominated the event in this country since 1972, when she won the first of her four national titles. She did not compete in 1974 because she was in Italy and this year she had to pass up the championship competition because of an injury. In addition, in 1975 and 1976 Frederick was the U.S. 100-meter hurdles champion, and in Sofia she set an American 100-meter hurdles record of 13.24 during the pentathlon. Last winter she won the national AAU indoor hurdles championship, setting a world record of 7.3 seconds for 60 yards. She also set an American record at 50 yards (6.3).

Standing on the track at UCLA's Drake Stadium, the one thing Jane Frederick does not resemble is what one might expect a student in Italian 220C to look like. Her shoulders are wide and muscular; she can bench-press 205 pounds. Her 5'11", 157-pound body tapers to a 28" waist and she has long, powerful legs.

For Frederick, that body has taken on a separate identity, like a race driver's car or a jockey's horse. For it to meet her expectations her body must be endlessly coddled, nourished and fine-tuned. "In a multiple event like the pentathlon you need more than raw talent," Frederick says. "You have to be conscious of the proportions of your body, yet so few American athletes are. A pentathlete, for instance, can't have the hamstrings of a hurdler because they wouldn't do for the distance race. The preparation of your body is so important because that's what has to perform."

Frederick admits that nonetheless her shape can cause problems. She cannot wear women's clothes and she even has trouble fitting her shoulders into men's shirts. "Everybody who approaches me from behind calls me sir," she says, smiling indulgently. Once, in New Orleans, a myopic headwaiter, who was viewing her head on, refused her admittance to a restaurant because she wasn't wearing the jacket required of all men.

Inevitably, her muscles provoke comment; just as inevitably, some of it is derogatory. Yet most reactions are admiring. "I think her body's beautiful," says Mac Wilkins, the 1976 Olympic gold medalist and world-record holder in the discus. "Most American women are marshmallows—physically, mentally and emotionally."

Dr. Leroy Perry Jr., a Los Angeles chiropractor who treats many top athletes and whom Frederick visits weekly, is more clinical in his appraisal. "Jane is functioning at about 75% to 80% in terms of body balance and coordination, and in terms of muscle response," he says. "The average person functions somewhere between 50% and 55%. I see Jane as a kind of high-performance gazelle with incredible amounts of strength and form. She is Mac Wilkins, Wilt Chamberlain and Bruce Jenner all put together on a woman's form."

Frederick is herself an admirer of Frederick. "I love my body," she says. "I've always liked being different. My body is different and I love it, every part of it. I particularly love my shoulders because they are unique."

Indeed, for the pentathlon if not for haute couture, her shape is ideal. "Jane is so tall because she has very long legs," says her roommate, Giulia Monteforte, an Italian pentathlete who is pursuing a degree in athletic training at California State University at Northridge. "In the hurdles all she has to do is run. Her legs are so long that she doesn't need to jump. I don't think she even sees the hurdles."

Alas, the Frederick physique is not perfect. From her father, Jane inherited small feet. They continually cause problems, most of which she takes to Dr. Perry. It was a strained right arch that kept her out of this year's national pentathlon competition and limited her participation at the AAU outdoor meet to the shotput, in which she finished second with a personal best of 51'¼". A scar curls around her left anklebone, the result of a 1973 operation to cure a nerve entrapment. "It looks like I laid an earthworm on it and he soaked in," says Frederick, surveying the scar. Her right ankle is discolored where seven stitches were needed to close a wound suffered while high-jumping at a meet among U.S., Canadian and Russian teams in Toronto last March. She was stitched up on the spot and, against the advice of her coaches, reentered the meet and won a hurdles race that clinched her victory in the triathlon, a sort of mini indoor pentathlon. Later that night she won an individual hurdles race against stiffer competition. The following day she could hardly walk.

There was a time when Jane Frederick seemed far more interested in being a scholar than an athlete. The youngest of four children, she grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in a virtual grove of academe. Her father taught political science at Berkeley. Her mother taught nursery school; she has since gone on to a master's degree in education and now heads up a community college program in early childhood education. Not that the family frowned upon sports. Her father officiated at local track meets and both her brothers were athletic. "My sister also was very athletic in junior high," says Jane, "but when she got to high school she discovered boys. She thought boys and sports didn't go together. I think that's a lot of hogwash."

When Jane was 11 the family moved from Berkeley to nearby Orinda, and she took up track, joining a local AAU team "because it was a nice kind of social thing for a new person in town." Jane had never high-jumped, but one week she was taught the scissors style and the next she set a local age-group record of 4'11" at the district championships.

In 1965, at age 13, she entered the national pentathlon championship, supposedly limited to those 14 and over. "There were only four people in it and they were glad to have another body. I got fifth," she says. "I didn't enter another national pentathlon until 1972, yet for some reason I always considered myself a pentathlete." Others did, too. She received mention in track periodicals but the question, "When will Jane Frederick get serious about track?" always accompanied such write-ups. In 1968 Frederick was offered a chance to go to the camp where athletes were training for the Mexico City Olympics. Instead she went to a Camp-fire Girls camp.

In the fall of 1969 Frederick entered the University of Colorado. At the time the school had no women's track program. "I didn't think about track in my choice of a college," she says. "I didn't have that kind of commitment. I went to college to get an education." Before long, however, she got together with a local coach, Lyle Knudson (now chairman of the Rocky Mountain AAU), and began working out. She had started to get serious about track. Then, in March, just as the season was getting underway, she tore a hamstring. Fourteen months passed before she entered a meet.

In the meantime Frederick decided to major in art and spend a year studying in Pisa, Italy. There, in the spring of 1971, she started to work out again. She had met an Italian coach, Franco Radman, who put her on a weight-lifting program. He convinced her that she could qualify for the 1972 Olympics as a pentathlete. Changing her major from art to Italian, she returned to Colorado and said to Knudson, "Let's go for it." The next year she won her first national pentathlon title and the Olympic Trials, making the U.S. team for the Munich Games.

It is important to understand that at this stage of her career Frederick viewed herself as a dedicated athlete, and by most standards was in fact just that. What she discovered in Munich, where she finished 21st in her first international competition, came as a shock. "When I got to Munich I saw just how much I had been playing around," she says. "I saw that the pentathlon had to be the central focus of my life, not just an activity on the side. I had always known I could do better but now I saw how much more I had to do to achieve something significant. And I said to myself, 'O.K. That's what I want to do.' "

Since graduating from Colorado in June 1973, Frederick has methodically trained for the pentathlon. First, she returned to Pisa to concentrate on weight lifting, the shotput and the high jump with Radman. She was there almost all of 1974, building her weight from 150 to 175 pounds.

While in Italy she met Sam Adams, the track coach at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He offered to coach her if she came back to Santa Barbara as a graduate student. Frederick did so late in 1974. With Adams she concentrated on the hurdles. "I had weight-trained so hard in Italy that I had totally ignored my running," she says. "Sam's coaching completely changed my hurdling." She improved from a best time of 14.3 in the hurdles to 13.4, a gain of 116 pentathlon points. Her best pentathlon to that point had been a 4,391, but in June 1975 she combined her new strength with Adams' running training to smash her American record by almost 300 points while winning her third national title.

Frederick stayed on at Santa Barbara the following year to train for Montreal. She had high hopes, but she did poorly. She was sixth at the end of the first day and finished seventh. "I had expected a medal," she says. "In the long jump [the first event of the second day] I fouled on my first and third attempt and had to settle for my second, which was just a safe jump. Then, in the 200-meter run, I was overanxious. I didn't sprint. I strided. I let myself down in those final two events, the most critical, but the whole thing was mediocre. I ran the hurdles with no pizzazz, I shotput with no oomph and I high-jumped flat as a pancake."

She dismisses her performance as the result of last-minute anxiety and over-training. Friends suggest the anxiety started long before Montreal. Monteforte says Jane was hard to live with for months before the Olympics, and as a testament to that recalls a black eye she received from Jane during an argument.

"I have an ego that's out to here," admits Frederick, stretching her left arm to its limit and smiling. "Particularly before a big competition, I'm intolerable to most of my friends. To compete in the pentathlon, to achieve personal records, you have to draw from yourself something you've never done before. I never let my mind think that I won't do it. I keep my mind always on track. I turn off that part of myself that can compromise with people. Things get on my nerves much more easily because they interrupt what I'm trying to maintain. Usually it's the people really close to me who suffer."

This past September Frederick moved to L.A., where Chuck Debus, the coach of the Los Angeles Naturite Track Club, is putting the finishing touches on her pentathlon, concentrating on the 800 and refining her long-jump technique. She also expects her studies at UCLA to make her fluent in Russian by the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

"I turned 25 recently," Frederick says. "I feel adult. I'm ready to go all out. Before, I was afraid to really try for that one great performance. Now I want to do it and get it done and do more and more. I'm on fire. And I have so many years of competition still ahead of me. Even 1984 isn't out of the question. I'll be 32 then."

For the present, Frederick's goal is becoming the first woman to break the 5,000-point barrier, and her chances of doing so have been enhanced by the recent restructuring of the event to include the 800. Under the old format the pentathlon could justifiably be criticized as a sprinter/jumper event. A speedster with leg spring could almost bypass the shotput and still win. Replacing the 200 with the 800 puts a greater demand on endurance and strength, and those are Frederick's principal attributes as a pentathlete. At present her best time over the new distance is 2:16.5, worth only 835 points, but as she puts it, "I am just making my acquaintanceship with the 800." Of the top pentathletes, Tkachenko has the best 800 time in a pentathlon—2:10.6—worth 917 points.

Frederick has formulated a strategy to score 5,000 points. To get 1,000 points in each event the pentathlete would have to high-jump 5'9¾", long-jump 21'½", put the shot 55'7½", run the 100 hurdles in 13.01 and the 800 in 2:05.1. Frederick has already bettered the first of these marks with a high jump of 5'11", worth 1,031 points, and is on the verge of getting 1,000 points in two other events. Her hurdles best of 13.24 puts her 33 points short of 1,000 in that event, and her long jump of 20'11" is just 12 points shy.

To reach 5,000 she hopes to lower her 800 time to 2:10, worth 926 points and improve her shotput from 51'¼" to 53'10½" for 972 points, then pick up the deficit in the other three events. If she high-jumps 6'¾" for 1,077 points, long-jumps 21'3¼" for 1,009 and does the hurdles in 12.9 for 1,016 she will score exactly 5,000. "Those marks are all very, very possible for me," she says. "Every damn one."

On a recent evening Frederick returned home from a workout at Drake Stadium to find her kitchen sink full of a thick, pea-green liquid. Clearly, there was a problem with the garbage disposal. Grabbing a wrench, she crawled in among the pipes so that her upper body disappeared, only her legs protruding from the sink cabinet. From beneath the plumbing her voice was deeper than usual. "I love doing things with my hands," she said, wrenching at the bolts holding the disposal in place. "I started out as an art major because I wanted to be a craftsman, a jeweler, a potter, a sculptor—anything I could do with my hands. Maybe that's why I was so taken with sports. I could best express myself physically. If one views one's career as an expression of the self, as where you fit into the world, then sports is a natural for me." With a powerful simultaneous twist and pull Frederick freed the disposal from the surrounding plumbing and emerged with it in her hands like a trophy.

She and Monteforte share a modest two-bedroom apartment near Westwood, furnished in early-college catchall. The women have three cats, a stray named Mousey, a small gray animal named P.R. (which is track and field shorthand for personal record), purchased by Monteforte the day Frederick improved her indoor 50-meter hurdles mark last season, and a new kitten, Tusha.

Trophies are conspicuously absent from the apartment. But by looking long and hard, you can discover one, or rather parts of one. It is the trophy Frederick got as "best athlete" in last season's Montreal indoor meet. The bowl now houses an impatiens plant, while the wood base has been carefully detached, turned upside down, had its plaque removed and now serves as a pot for a butterfly palm. Frederick has held onto one medal, however. It is the gold for the pentathlon at the 1975 World University Games in Rome. The victory had no great international significance, because the field was limited to college and graduate students, but that restriction is meaningful to Frederick. "I suppose it's not that big a deal," she says, "but school is tough. This medal says that within the classification of student-athletes I was the best."

The disposal restored, the sink back in order and a dinner of lamb chops and corn on the stove, Frederick pondered the matter of her continuing sublimation of academia to sport. "The pentathlon gives me a satisfaction that nothing in life has ever given me...except maybe school," she said. "But school is mind-oriented and I'm so physical. If I could have made a career out of professional sports, I would have. What else in life gives you an absolute measurement of where you stand and how much you've progressed?

"Sports, particularly the pentathlon in my case, is tantalizing. It tells you yes or it tells you no. And it tells you in such absolute terms. There is nothing so definite in life as that distance mark, that time, that height, that score."

And right now the goal in Jane Frederick's life is equally definite, 5,000 points, the first 5,000 points.


Frederick figures that the new pentathlon format, including an 800-meter race, is to her benefit.


With a best of 20'11", Frederick counts on the long jump to offset shortfalls in other events.


Frederick's best event is the hurdles. She has run 13.24 in the 100 meters and ranks No. 1 in the U.S.


Frederick and her roommate, pentathlete Giulia Monteforte, work out at Rome's Farnesina track.


Tusha, Jane's newest cat, joins Mousey and P.R., the latter bought when Jane broke a hurdle mark.