Jackie Joyner-Kersee is a retired athlete and former Olympic track and field star. She was born on March 3, 1962 in Illinois. Named after Jackie Kennedy, Joyner found the inspiration to be a track star after watching a movie about the track and field star Babe Didrikson Zaharias. In 1980, while still in high school, she qualified for the Olympic trials. Although she finished 8th, she continued to train persistently. She was a meticulous student and graduated amongst the top of her class, and also competed in the basketball, volleyball and track teams at school. Joyner won four consecutive National Junior Pentathlon championships, the first victory gained when she was still a teenager. During this time, she also set the Illinois wide high school long jump record for women, with her jump measuring 6.68 meters.
After high school, Joyner attended the University of California, Los Angeles after receiving a full scholarship. Here she participated in basketball as well as track and field. Joyner was later voted as one of the 15 greatest players in UCLA women’s basketball and also honored as “Top Woman Collegiate Athlete of the Past 25 Years”. Driven by her strong performance in college athletics, Joyner soon shifted her focus to Olympic training. In the 1984 Summer Olympics, she won the silver medal in the heptathlon, losing the top spot by just 5 points. In the 1986 Goodwill Games, Joyner became the first female athlete to score more than 7000 points in the heptathlon and was awarded the James E. Sullivan Award the same year.
In the 1988 Summer Olympics held in Seoul, Korea, Jackie Joyner-Kersee truly displayed her fantastic athletic abilities, taking home two gold medals. The first was for the heptathlon, in which she also set the world record of 7291 points, a record which still stands to date. Her second gold medal was for the long jump, in which she set an Olympic record of 7.40 meters. Going into the 1991 World Championships as a favorite for the Heptathlon, Joyner unluckily pulled a hamstring and had to retire from the event. Before her injury, she did manage to win the gold medal in the long jump.
At the next Olympics, that is, the 1992 Summer Olympics held in Barcelona, Spain, she took home the gold medal for the heptathlon, making her the first athlete to win back to back Olympic gold medals in the heptathlon. She competed in the 1996 Olympic Games as well, taking home the bronze medal in the long jump. She continued to compete professionally, and won the gold medal in the heptathlon at the 1998 Goodwill Games. She tried out for the long jump at the 2000 Olympics but failed to qualify in the trials. She officially retired in 2001, at the age of 38.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee is married to her former coach Bob Kersee. Her brother is the Olympic triple jump champion Al Joyner, and her sister in law was the famous Olympic track champion, Florence Griffith Joyner. Bob also coached Florence in her track events, and she won three Olympic gold medals under his guidance. However, his tactics came under scrutiny when speculation arose about Florence’s use of performance enhancing drugs, despite all her drug screening tests being clean. Joyner has always maintained that she has never used any performance enhancing substances and has never been involved in any scandals involving the issue.
Joyner has established the “Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation” which aims to encourage young, underprivileged youth to take up sports. She has also established another foundation named “Athletes for Hope” along with other famous sports personalities such as the boxing legend Muhammad Ali and tennis star Andre Agassi. She currently serves on the board of the USA Track & Field organization.