Jackie Joyner-Kersee Biography

Track and Field Athlete, Athlete (1962–)
American track and field great Jackie Joyner-Kersee won three Olympic gold medals and numerous national titles during her record-setting career.

Who Is Jackie Joyner-Kersee?

Born in 1962 in East St. Louis, Illinois, Jackie Joyner-Kersee became one of the greatest athletes in American history. The first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in the long jump and the first woman to compile more than 7,000 points in the seven-event heptathlon, Joyner-Kersee went on to win three golds, a silver and two bronze medals over four separate Olympics. She was named Sports Illustrated for Women's top female athlete of the 20th century.

Olympic Stardom

Jackie Joyner-Kersee rose to fame through her dominant performances on the world stage of the Olympic Games:

1984

Competing in her first Olympics, in Los Angeles, Joyner-Kersee earned a silver medal in the heptathlon, a seven-event competition that includes the 200-meter run, 800-meter run and 100-meter hurdles. 

1988

Building on her impressive showing at the 1986 Goodwill Games, Joyner-Kersee made a splash at the Seoul Games by accumulating a record 7,291 points in the heptathlon to win gold. Additionally, she became the first American woman to win gold in the long jump.

1992

With her successful follow-up at the 1992 Barcelona Games, Joyner-Kersee became the first woman to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in the heptathlon. She added a bronze in the long jump.

1996

Joyner-Kersee's last Olympic run came in 1996, when she took home another bronze medal in the long jump at the Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia. She did not compete in the heptathlon that year due to a pulled hamstring.  

Other Records and Achievements

Along with her Olympic triumphs, Joyner-Kersee won four gold medals at the World Championships. She claimed the national heptathlon championship eight times and the national long jump title nine times, setting the American record with her leap of 24 feet, 7 inches in 1994. Joyner-Kersee also thrived in the hurdles, setting national records at distances of 50, 55 and 60 meters.

Family of Champions

Jackie Joyner-Kersee isn't the only athletic star in her family; at the 1984 Olympics, where she won silver, her older brother, Al, won the gold medal in the triple jump.

In 1986, Joyner-Kersee married her coach, Bob Kersee, who was also training sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner. "Flo-Jo" married Al Joyner the following year, before winning three golds at the 1988 Olympics. Al Joyner also briefly served as his wife's coach, before her retirement in 1989.

Later Career and Retirements

After announcing her retirement from track in the summer of 1998, Joyner-Kersee briefly attempted a career as a professional basketball player. She soon came out of retirement with the goal of making the U.S. Olympic team for the fifth time, but fell short at the 2000 Olympic trials. In February 2001, she formally retired for good, at age 38.

Early Hardship and Athletic Success

Jacqueline Joyner-Kersee was born on March 3, 1962, in East St. Louis, Illinois. The daughter of teenage parents, she endured financial hardship while growing up, but soon rose above the pack with her athletic prowess.

As a teen, she won the National Junior Pentathlon championships four years in a row, and received widespread honors in high school in various sports, including track, basketball and volleyball. Joyner-Kersee thrived as a basketball and track-and-field star, however, and during her junior year, she set the Illinois high-school long jump record for women, with a 6.68-meter jump.

Joyner-Kersee attended the University of California, Los Angeles on a full scholarship, and continued to gain fame on both the court and field. However, in 1981, at the age of 19, she began to focus on training for the Olympics, specifically for the heptathlon. She later graduated from UCLA in 1985 

Awards and Honors

Among her many accolades, Joyner-Kersee won the 1986 James E. Sullivan Award as the nation's top amateur athlete, as well as USA Track & Field's Jesse Owens Award in 1986 and '87. In 1999, she was named the greatest female athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated for Women, and in 2004, she was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame.

Post-Track Career

Having created the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation, to encourage underprivileged youth in her hometown to play sports, the athletic great devoted more time to the endeavor in retirement. In 2007, she helped establish Athletes for Hope, along with other champions like Andre Agassi, Muhammad Ali and Mia Hamm. This organization aims to "educate, encourage and assist athletes in their efforts to contribute to community and charitable causes," according to its website.

Joyner-Kersee joined the board of USA Track & Field in 2012. In 2016, she became a spokesperson for the cable TV company Comcast.

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