Joyner-Kersee, Jacqueline ("Jackie")

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JOYNER-KERSEE, Jacqueline ("Jackie")

(b. 3 March 1962 in East St. Louis, Illinois), track and basketball star who is known as America's best all-around female athlete and the greatest ever heptathlete.

Alfred Joyner, a construction worker and railroad switch operator, and Mary Joyner, a nurse's aide, were teenagers when they had their daughter Jackie, the second of their four children. Jackie was born in the same house as her father, at 1433 Piggott Avenue, in the impoverished city of East St. Louis.

It was evident early on that Joyner-Kersee would emerge as a talented athlete. She began competing and winning in track at nine years old. At first her parents wanted her to quit, although her father had been a hurdler and football player in high school. When Joyner-Kersee was able to do the "long jump" at more than seventeen feet at age twelve, however, her parents encouraged her to continue with her athletic pursuits. She even became a role model for her older brother, Alfred junior, who in 1984 became an Olympic gold medal winner in the triple jump.

Several incidents occurred in Joyner-Kersee's childhood that left lasting impressions: her dance instructor was murdered, she witnessed a man being shot near her home, and her grandfather killed his wife with a shotgun. Through it all Joyner-Kersee exhibited exceptional courage and determination. She attributes her steadfastness to her mother's many lessons. She was also inspired by a television movie about the American track star Mildred "Babe" Didrikson she had seen in 1975.

Joyner-Kersee attended Lincoln High School, where she was a good student despite her hectic athletic schedule. At age fourteen she won the first of four National Junior Pentathlon Championships, and during her junior year she set a state high school record in the long jump. She also began to play volleyball and basketball. She became so good at basketball that she was offered a basketball scholarship (in addition to a track scholarship) to attend the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She accepted the basketball scholarship and became an All-American forward for the Bruins.

In 1980, just before starting at UCLA as a history major, Joyner-Kersee sought to earn a place on the U.S. team for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Even though she qualified, the United States boycotted the games that year to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan, and she was unable to compete.

Joyner-Kersee's freshman year at UCLA was plagued by two major setbacks. She had been diagnosed with asthma, and her mother died of meningitis in January 1981. Joyner-Kersee and her brother Al were forced to remove their mother from life support, something their father could not bring himself to do. During this time Joyner-Kersee met her future husband, UCLA assistant track coach Bob Kersee. Kersee agreed with Joyner-Kersee's former coach George Ward that she would be a formidable competitor in multiple-event competitions. Joyner and Kersee married on 11 January 1986. (Kersee also coached Florence Griffith Joyner, Joyner-Kersee's future sister-in-law, until the summer of 1988, when her husband Al became her coach.)

In 1982 Joyner-Kersee won the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Heptathlon Championship (the heptathlon, a two-day competition, consists of the 100-meter hurdles, the high jump, the shot put, and the 200-meter dash on the first day, and the long jump, the javelin, and the 800-meter race on the second day). The next year, both Joyner-Kersee and her brother were named to the U.S. Track and Field World Championships team for the competition in Helsinki, Finland. However, a pulled hamstring muscle prevented Joyner-Kersee from fulfilling her long-awaited goal.

Although Joyner-Kersee broke a U.S. heptathlon record with a score of 6,520 points in the trials for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, she was injured again. Amazingly she managed to win a silver medal, missing the gold by only one-third of a second. Her brother, who had been a long shot for the triple jump, won the gold that year. In 1985 Joyner-Kersee also set a U.S. long jump record.

In 1986, after having graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in history, Joyner-Kersee decided to stop playing basketball and focus her attention on track. Her decision paid off that year during the Goodwill Games in Moscow; she broke the U.S. record for the 100-meter hurdles and the heptathlon record for the long jump. At the end of that two-day meet, Joyner-Kersee became the first woman from the United States since Babe Didrikson (who had set a triathlon record in 1936) to establish a multiple-event world record by earning a score of 7,148 in the heptathlon. Twenty-six days later she broke world heptathlon records at the U.S. Olympic Festival in Houston. As a result, Joyner-Kersee became the only athlete worldwide ever to have earned an average of over 7,000 points a year for the heptathlon.

In 1987 Joyner-Kersee won gold medals in both the long jump and heptathlon at the indoor and outdoor track-and-field championships in the United States, the Pan-American Games in Indianapolis, and the World Championships in Rome. She also set U.S., world, and Olympic records for the heptathlon at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, as well as the Olympic record for the long jump.

At age thirty, Joyner-Kersee once again proved to be the best in the heptathlon at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, where she placed third in the long jump. The following year she earned a gold medal in the heptathlon at the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. In 1994 Joyner-Kersee was also victorious in the heptathlon competition at the Goodwill Games in St. Petersburg, Russia. She continued to compete in multiple events until 1988, when she retired following her win in the heptathlon at the Goodwill Games in Atlanta.

In retirement, Joyner-Kersee became a motivational speaker and a sports marketing agent. She founded the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Community Foundation in 1988, an organization dedicated to raising money for athletic, cultural, and educational programs for disadvantaged youth. Her message for children is this: "I remember where I came from. If young girls see the environment I grew up in, and my dreams and goals came true, they will realize that their dreams and goals might also come true." In 1997 her organization became known as the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation after merging with the East St. Louis Youth Center. On 1 March 2000 her dream of opening a youth center in her hometown had come true.

In July 2000 Joyner-Kersee emerged from retirement to compete in the long jump. Although she qualified for her fifth Olympic team, she eventually lost to newcomer Marion Jones. That year, however, Joyner-Kersee was selected as the Sports Illustrated for Women 's Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century. Joyner-Kersee's many years as an outstanding athlete who had to overcome remarkable odds was rewarded many times, and she has received many awards, including the Broderick Cup (1985); the James E. Sullivan Award (1986); the Sportsman of the Year Award, presented by the U.S. Olympic Committee (1986); the Jesse Owens Memorial Award (1986 and 1987); and the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year Award (1987). She was the first woman to win the Sporting News Athlete of the Year Award in 1988.

Joyner-Kersee's "three D's"—determination, dedication, and desire––are her most valuable assets and were taught by her mother early on in life. In addition, her grandmother named her Jacqueline after former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, because "Someday this girl will be the first lady of something." Her grandmother did not realize how right she would prove to be.

Joyner-Kersee's autobiography, written with Sonja Steptoe, is A Kind of Grace: The Autobiography of the World's Greatest Female Athlete (1997). A biographical sketch is in Jessie Carney Smith, ed., Epic Lives : One Hundred Black Women Who Made a Difference (1993). A Kind of Grace: The Autobiography of the World's Greatest Female Athlete is also available as a Time Warner AudioBook. See also Neil Cohen, Jackie Joyner-Kersee (1992), Lisa Burby, Jackie Joyner-Kersee: Record-Breaking Runner (1997), and Richard Rambeck, Jackie Joyner Kersee (1996). Articles include Michele Kort, "Go Jackie, Go," Ms. magazine (17 Oct. 1988); Renee D. Turner, "My Happiest Moment," Ebony 43 (Mar. 1988); and Kenny Moore, "Quest for New Conquests," Sports Illustrated 70 (5 June 1989).

Adriana C. Tomasino