Jackie Joyner-Kersee is the greatest female athlete in the history of track and field.
Born in East St. Louis, Illinois, on this date in 1962, she was named after then-first-lady Jacqueline Kennedy after her grandmother declared that “Some day this girl will be the first lady of something.” Jackie was the second of Mary and Alfred Joyner’s four children, who were 16 and 15 years old, respectively, when they married. She was extraordinarily athletic, long jumping nearly 17 feet by age 12 and setting a state long jump record of 21.91 feet as a high school junior. As a senior, she qualified for the finals in the long jump at the 1980 Olympic Trials. Joyner also excelled in the classroom, graduating in the top ten percent in her Lincoln High School class of 350, while also starring in basketball and volleyball. Her track specialty was pentathlon, a grueling seven-event competition comprised of the 100 meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200 meters, long jump, javelin throw and 800 meters. As a teen, Joyner won the national junior pentathlon championships four years in a row. After graduating from Lincoln High in 1980, Joyner accepted a scholarship to UCLA.
After arriving in Westwood, California, in the late summer of 1980, Joyner became a starter for the Bruins basketball team as a freshman. In 1982, she won an NCAA title in heptathlon, placed second in the long jump and competed in hurdles and two relay events to lead the Bruins to the NCAA championships team title. The following year, she again won the heptathlon crown while helping UCLA defend their team title. Joyner was a four-year starter in basketball, playing in 121 games and scoring 1,167 points during her career with the Lady Bruins. In 1984, she won the Olympic silver medal in heptathlon after finishing five points behind Australian Glynis Nunn. She graduated from UCLA the following year and became the first woman to score over 7,000 points in a heptathlon event while earning the gold medal at the 1986 Goodwill Games. In August 1987, Joyner took gold in the long jump at the Goodwill Games. One week later, she claimed the long jump and heptathlon titles at the World Championships in Rome. In the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Joyner earned a gold medal in the long jump and set the still-standing heptathlon world record of 7,291 points en route to her second Olympic gold medal. After defending her World Championship long jump title in 1991, she won her second Olympic gold medal in heptathlon in Barcelona while taking bronze in the long jump. Four years later, she sustained a hamstring injury during the Olympic Trials, forcing her to withdraw from the heptathlon event at the 1996 Atlanta Games. She recovered well enough to win a bronze medal in the high jump before returning to form and win the heptathlon title at the 1998 Goodwill Games–the final gold medal of her career. After failing to make the Olympic team in 2000, Joyner retired from track & field.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee [she married Bob Kersee, her long-time coach, in 1986] is the most decorated female athlete in track & field history, with six Olympic medals. She is the first American female to score over 7,000 points in a heptathlon event and holds the six all-time highest point totals. Joyner-Kersee is one of the greatest female athletes of all-time, having competed in four Olympic Games and won four World Championships. Heptathlon measures speed, strength and stamina, and “JJK” is the finest heptathlete the world has ever seen. Her brother Al won an Olympic gold medal in the triple jump in 1984 and her sister-in-law, Florence Griffith-Joyner [Daily Dose, September 16], won four Olympic gold medals and is the fastest woman of all-time. In 1986, Joyner-Kersee won the Sullivan Award as the outstanding amateur athlete in the United States as well as the Jesse Owens Award as athlete of the year in track & field. She was voted “Female Athlete of the Year” by Track & Field News in 1986, ’87 and ’94 and “Top Woman Athlete of the Past 25 Years” by the NCAA in April 2001. In 1999, Sports Illustrated voted JJK the “Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century,” just ahead of Babe Didrikson [Daily Dose, January 21].