Jackie Joyner-Kersee is an American retired track and field athlete who won three gold, one silver, and two bronze Olympic medals at four different Olympic Games. Ranked among the all-time greatest athletes in the women's heptathlon as well as in the women's long jump, she was voted the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th century by the ‘Sports Illustrated for Women’ magazine. Born in East St. Louis, Illinois, she took to sports at an early age and as a teenager she won the first of four consecutive National Junior Pentathlon championships. A good student who managed to maintain decent academic record throughout high school despite her extensive involvement in sporting activities, she won a scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles. There she excelled in both track & field and in women's basketball. As the 1984 Summer Olympics neared, she focused more on training for the event, specifically for the heptathlon. She gave an exciting performance at the Games and won the silver medal in the heptathlon. Determined to do better at the next Olympics, she trained even harder and managed to clinch the gold in both the heptathlon and the long jump. Over the course of her career she created several world records, some of which stand unbeaten even today, years after her retirement.
Childhood & Early Life
Jacqueline Joyner was born on March 3, 1962, in East St. Louis, Illinois; she was named after Jacqueline Kennedy.
Energetic and active from a young age, she became interested in sports early on. She attended the East St. Louis Lincoln Senior High School where she excelled in athletics and qualified for the finals in the long jump at the 1980 Olympic Trials, finishing eighth.
A good student, she performed well in studies and graduated near the top of her class. Throughout her high school years she competed on the school’s volleyball, basketball, and track teams. As a junior, she set the Illinois high-school girls’ long jump record at 6.68 meters (20 feet 7.5 inches).
As a result of her sporting success in high school, she earned a scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles, where she initially focused on basketball and the long jump. But as the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles neared, she focused more on training for the heptathlon.
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Jackie Joyner-Kersee competed in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and won the silver medal in the heptathlon, finishing just behind Australian Glynis Nunn.
She bettered her performance in the 1986 Goodwill Games where she became the first woman to score over 7,000 points in a heptathlon event. Her scintillating performance earned her the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States.
In 1987, she won the gold medals in both long jump and heptathlon at the World Championships in Rome.
She trained really hard for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, and gave some of her best performances there. She set the heptathlon world record (7,291 points) while winning the gold medal in the heptathlon. She also won the gold in long jump.
Her magnificent form continued over the ensuing years and when she participated in the 1991 World Championships, she was the favorite to retain both her World titles earned four years earlier. She won the long jump easily with a 7.32 m (24 ft 1⁄4 in) jump but then sustained an injury that prevented her from participating in the heptathlon.
Another Olympic gold medal came at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, when she won the heptathlon. This victory made her the first athlete to win the heptathlon in consecutive Olympic Games. She also received a bronze medal at the games in long jump.
She made her final Olympic appearance in 1996. Having sustained an injury to her right hamstring during the Olympic trials, she had not fully recovered by the time the heptathlon started and had to withdraw from the event. However, she managed to win a bronze medal in the long jump.
She suffered from exercise-induced asthma partly because of which she officially retired from track and field in 2001 at age 38. Following her retirement she became involved in philanthropic activities and joined the board of the USA Track & Field organization in 2012.
Awards & Achievements
In 1986 she won the James E. Sullivan Award. She also won the Jesse Owens Award twice (1986 and 1987).
She was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 2000.
In 2005, she was inducted as a Laureate of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois and awarded the Order of Lincoln (the State's highest honor) by the Governor of Illinois in the area of Sports.
She is the recipient of the 2011 Dick Enberg Award, College Sports Information Director of America (CoSIDA).
Sports Illustrated’ voted her the greatest female athlete of the 20th century.
Personal Life & Legacy
She married her track coach, Bob Kersee, in 1986. The couple established the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation in 1988. The foundation provides youth, adults, and families with athletic lessons and the resources to improve their quality of life.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee along with several other athletes and sportspeople like Andre Agassi, Muhammad Ali, Lance Armstrong, Warrick Dunn, Mia Hamm, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Hawk founded Athletes for Hope, a charitable organization, in 2007.