Jacqueline "Jackie" Joyner-Kersee, ranked among the all-time greatest athletes in the heptathlon as well as long jump, was voted the Greatest Female Athlete of All-Time by Sports Illustrated for Women. Here are some very interesting facts about the former American track and field athlete:
She was born Jacqueline Joyner Kersee on March 03, 1962, in East St. Louis, Illinois. She was named after the late first lady of U.S, Jackie Kennedy.
Her father Alfred Joyner Sr. was a worker at Railroad Company and Mary Joyner a homemaker-cum-drill-sergeant. Her brother Al Joyner is also an Olympian.
Kersee lived in a home which was little more than wallpaper and sticks with four small bedrooms. They sometimes had mayonnaise sandwich for lunch and had go without heat at times. She said it was still ‘a lot of fun and a lot of love.’
Growing-up in the 60s, she and her siblings would fill the grass beside their porch with empty potato-chip bags with sand and tamped it down to make a landing pit.
She attended East St. Louis Lincoln Senior High School and was good at Basketball, volleyball and Track & Field. She won the National Junior Pentathlon championship four years in a row.
She was inspired to compete in multi-disciplinary event after watching a T.V movie on Babe Didrikson Zaharias, the ‘Greatest Female Athlete of the First half of the 20th Century. Kersee was voted Greatest Female Athlete of all time fifteen years later, ahead of her idol by the ‘Sports Illustrated for Women.’
She set the Illinois high school long jump record for women, with 6.68 meter jump. While still in high school she qualified for the finals in the long jump at the 1980 Olympics Trials, finishing 8th.
Kersee accepted basketball scholarship from University of California, Los Angeles. She was the state champion both in athletics and basketball. She scored 1,167 points during her collegiate career and helped The Bruins to the semi-finals of the 1985 NCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Tournament.
On February 21, 1998, Kersee was honored as one of the 15 greatest players in UCLA women’s basketball.
While at college, her all-round potential was spotted by her coach Bob Kersee and convinced her and the University to switch from basketball to heptathlon.
She qualified for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic at the United States trials in the long jump with 6.65 m and in heptathlon with a new national record of 6520 points.
At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Kersee won a Silver Medal in the heptathlon with 6385 points, missing the Gold by mere five points. She was placed fifth in the long jump with her personal best of 6.77m.
On January 11, 1986, she married her coach and longtime friend Bob Kersee.
Kersee was the first women athlete to score over 7000 points in a heptathlon event. She set a new world record at the Goodwill Games in Moscow, with 7,148 points.
She beat her own heptathlon world record at the 1986 U.S Olympic Festival in Houston, Texas with 7,158 points. As the top amateur athlete of 1986, she was awarded the ‘James E. Sullivan Award’ and the ‘Jesse Owens Award.’
She went one up with her Olympic performance and won two gold medals in long jump and heptathlon at the 1987 World Championships Athletics. She recorded a jump of 7.36 in the jump and totaled 7128 points in heptathlon for a new Championship records.
In 1988, Seoul Summer Olympics, Kersee won Gold medal in both heptathlon and long jump. She set a world record with 7291 points in heptathlon and leapt to 7.40 m in the long jump for the Olympic record. She is the first American women athlete to win gold medals in both these events.
Kersee could not repeat her Rome performance at the 1991 World Championships in Athletics, Tokyo. She won the long jump gold easily with a jump of 7.32 m but pulled out of heptathlon events after she injured her hamstring during 200 m run.
At the 1992 Summer Olympics, Barcelona, she retained her heptathlon Gold Medal with 7044 points well below her best. Even her performance in the long jump, was disappointing with a jump of 7.07m which earned her a Bronze Medal.
Although she qualified at the U.S trials in the long jump and heptathlon, she did not participate in the long jump at the 1993 World Championship in Athletics. However she won the Gold Medal in the heptathlon competition with aggregate of 6837 points just ahead of Sabine Braun of Germany.
Kersee won the Gold Medal in heptathlon at 1994 Goodwill Games held at St. Petersburg, Russia, with 6606 points defeating Larisa Turchinskaya of Russia and Ghada Shouaa of Syria.
In the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, Kersee won a Bronze Medal with a jump of 7 m in her sixth and final jump. She withdrew from the heptathlon competition after the first event due to the hamstring injury which she aggravated at the US trails.
At the 1998 Goodwill Games New York, she made her return to track and won the heptathlon event again with 6,502 points.
In 2000, she opened ‘The Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center’ near the ‘Mary Brown Youth Center,’ where she spent her youth. She promotes fitness among young people.
Kersee comeback from unofficial retirement at the U.S Trials for the 2000 Sydney Olympics fell short. She finished sixth with a jump of 21feet 10 3/4 inches. She never felt comfortable chopping her steps on the runway and never making any serious threat to qualify.
A sufferer of exercise induced asthma, Kersee officially retired from track and filed in 2001 at the age of 38.
Kersee was awarded ‘Jack Kelly Fair Play’ award in 1997. She was inducted as a ‘Laureate of ‘The Lincoln Academy of Illinois’ and awarded the Order of Lincoln by the Governor in the area of sports in 2005.
She is admired for her strength and speed as well as her character Jackie continues to inspire young athletes everywhere through her work as a mentor and motivational speaker.
Kersee is also involved with ‘Run, Jump, Throw,’ a new program sponsored by Hershet and USA Track and Field. It is designed to encourage physical activities among kids 7 to 12.
In 1996, the ‘Jesse Owens Award’ given by USATF to the ‘Athlete of the Year’ was split for each gender and female awardee was renamed the ‘Jackie Joyner-Kersee Award.’ She has joined the Board of Directors for USA Track & Field.