Flashback: 1972 Olympics.
The Rhodesian Track and Field Team is forced to leave the Olympic Village in Munich, West Germany, the day before the opening ceremony when its invitation to compete was revoked because of the political situation back home in what is now Zimbabwe. Twenty-one-year-old javelin thrower Bruce Graham Kennedy returned to the University of California, Berkeley, thwarted in his bid for the gold.
Flashback: 1976 Olympics.
The Rhodesian Track and Field Team is denied permission to enter Canada to compete in the Olympics in Montreal because of the apartheid policies of its country, and the now 25-year-old Mr. Kennedy -- who had by this time finished his bachelor's degree and was married to a U.S. citizen -- was denied a chance at glory for a second time.
Flashback: 1980 Olympics.
Mr. Kennedy -- now 29, a U.S. citizen and a member of the U.S. Track and Field Team -- is denied his third chance at Olympic competition when then-President Jimmy Carter orders a boycott of the Moscow Games to protest the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union.
Flashback: 1984 Olympics.
Mr. Kennedy's fourth and last attempt at entering Olympic competition -- this time in Los Angeles -- was unsuccessful when he didn't qualify for the U.S. team. Mr. Kennedy already had retired from the javelin when he enrolled in Stanford University's MBA program, and he explained that "although (I was) physically able, mentally the demands of grad school proved to be too much" to ensure a comeback at the age of 33.
Mr. Kennedy worked as an usher at the Los Angeles games.
These days, while Mr. Kennedy has retired from active athletic competition, he competes as an active bond manager with the same drive and intensity he had as a world-class athlete.
"There are many parallels between athletics and money management. The discipline it takes to be an athlete is the same that I use as a bond manager today," said Mr. Kennedy, senior vice president and head of fixed income at Provident Investment Counsel Inc., Pasadena, Calif. Mr. Kennedy and his partner, Dan Patterson, manage about $800 million in fixed-income assets, mainly for institutional investors. The firm has about $24 billion under management.
The precision of the two disciplines creates parallels between javelin-throwing and bond management. "We're managing money and we are measured by basis points. We fight and scrap for 1% of 1%. Try explaining that to a normal human being," Mr. Kennedy said.
"But the javelin is very similar. You throw, you measure, you're one, two or three. There's nothing subjective about it. You're measured by centimeters," he said.
"To use another sports analogy . . . take Tiger Woods. He can hit the ball over and over and can replicate his performance many times over. We're similar here in our management process. We have a definite philosophy and process and it's so defined, we can replicate it over and over. Like many technical sports -- the high jump, the javelin, golf, archery -- bond management, the way we do it here, is so well-defined that you can figure out what you're doing wrong and fix it," he said.
The tenacity that kept Mr. Kennedy in a javelin-throwing career much longer than that of the average track and field athlete has not left him. In the same tone he used to describe the thrill of javelin competition at the international level, Mr. Kennedy said: "Bond management is infectious. It consumes you. It's crystal clear. This is your performance. There is no gray area."
And if PIPER were an Olympic competition, Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Patterson would have brought home a gold medal for their bond returns so far this year. The composite performance of Provident's broad market fixed-income strategy was 5% year-to-date June 30, placing it in the first decile ranking among peer managers in Pensions & Investments' Performance Evaluation Report. Composite performance was an annualized 6.3% for the three years ended June 30, a third decile PIPER ranking.
Mr. Kennedy admits to the same excitement the rest of the world feels as the flags are hoisted during the Olym- pic opening ceremony, and harbors no bitterness about his own thwarted attempts to compete in the Games: "I don't dwell on it. It was just an unfortunate set of circumstances that kept happening to me."
Like bond management, "the javelin is not an event that gets a lot of publicity. You do it for your own satisfaction. There are so few opportunities in life to do something that you're really good at. It was just such a thrill, a thrill to be chosen for the U.S. Olympic team," Mr. Kennedy said.
And the thrill is not entirely gone. Every four years in the buildup to the Olympics, someone somewhere in the world finds out about Mr. Kennedy and interviews him about his three-times-unlucky bid for the gold.
This year, a Japanese film crew for the television show "Unbelievable" spent five hours at Mr. Kennedy's house, filming him and his near-Olympic memorabilia.