Bruce Jenner was a superb athlete, and he's not bad on television either. But as a husband and a father, well, he's not exactly winning medals. Jenner and his second wife, Linda Thompson, Elvis Presley's live-in lover for almost five years, have separated. The reason apparently is Jenner's frequent absences from their Malibu home, which they shared with sons Brandon, 4, and Sam, 2. "We have," says Linda, who is in her mid 30s, "a great relationship but not a marriage."

After winning the Olympic gold medal in the decathlon in 1976, Jenner boosted his all-American good looks and showman's instincts into a lucrative career as pitchman for such products as Wheaties, Minolta cameras and London Fog. He also appeared in an unsuccessful movie (Can't Stop the Music) and an equally undistinguished TV show (CHiPs). Currently, Jenner hosts a celebrity sports program, Star Games, and last week substituted for David Hartman on ABC's Good Morning America. But all this has added up to lots of time away from home—and hence, says Linda, the split. "I don't think the kids are cognizant of the separation because their dad has always been on the road a lot," she says. Summing up, she adds, "Sometimes life just kind of grabs you and throws you in different directions."

Bruce met Linda in 1980 at a tennis tournament. A year later, after a messy and much publicized divorce from his first wife, Chrystie (they have two children, ages 7 and 5), they married. Linda has built a career for herself, appearing as a regular on the syndicated show Hee Haw, which is taped two months out of the year in Nashville. "The children always go to Nashville with me," Linda says, "but they never travel with their dad, because his trips are so often just one-nighters."

Their friends have been caught by surprise by the separation. "They really complemented each other," says Rana Arons, an executive with Active Home Video, which produced a Bruce Jenner health and exercise tape last year. "Linda has a great sense of humor and brings out the same in Bruce. He was much lower-keyed when we worked with him alone." Ex-wife Chrystie, who has since remarried and also lives in Malibu, says she "heard in September that Bruce had moved out. So many people called to tell me about it. They must think I'd be gloating. But I feel sad for anyone who is going through a divorce—even if it is my ex-husband."

For a couple splitting up, Bruce and Linda still show a remarkable amount of togetherness. They appear in public together and took their kids to Memphis at Christmas to visit Linda's mother, who is suffering from emphysema. Says Bruce, "We are living apart and we still have a wonderful relationship." Yes, but is a reconciliation possible? "I've learned never to say never," Linda says. "I don't mind speaking for Bruce in saying that family means a great deal to us. But our life together just isn't as cohesive as it once was. It was all a lot easier when we were just dating."