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Jackie Joyner-Kersee: A Legacy of Excellence as One of the top Athletes of the Century

Source: Olympics 

An old saying says that people’s fate can be simplified by their names as names have power. This proves true for Jacqueline Joyner-Kersee, a retired track and field athlete named after the wife of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline.

Born March 3, 1962, Jacqueline Joyner-Kersee, fondly referred to as Jackie, was a track and field athlete who excelled in the Heptathlon and the long jump. She is widely regarded as one of the best female athletes of all time and was voted the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century by Sports Illustrated for Women.

Growing up, Jackie’s love for the sport was evident as she would spend so much time at the Mary Brown Center, East St. Louis, Illinois, engaged in all kinds of sports, including volleyball, basketball, dancing and many more. By the time she was 14, she already won four junior pentathlon championships, all in a row. Going on to high school, she competed and qualified for the finals in the 1980 Olympics long jump trials while still maintaining an excellent grade in school.

Her athletic prowess earned her a basketball scholarship to UCLA, where she was the starting forward for the Bruins for four years and was later voted as one of the fifteen best UCLA female basketball players of all time. Her inspiration to compete in the multi-disciplinary track & field events came after seeing a TV-adapted movie about Babe Didrikson Zaharias, a track star, basketball player, and pro golfer who was awarded as the “Greatest Female Athlete of the First Half of the 20th Century.”

Following the path of excellence laid by her role model Didrikson, Jackie switched to track and events and started practicing for the 1984 Summer Olympics. Her hard work and dedication paid off as she won a silver medal in the Heptathlon at the 1984 Summer Olympics. 

After college, Jackie became so good that a fantasy opponent had to be invented to compete with as she was better than everyone else. She later went on to win a gold medal in the  1988 Summer Olympics held in Seoul, South Korea, leading by 76 points and became the first woman to make and surpass the Heptathlon 7,000 records. Five days after setting a world heptathlon record, Jackie yet again made history as the first American woman to win a gold medal in the long jump.

The first dark spot in her successful athletic career appeared 1991 World Olympics. After winning the long at an impressive and unbeatable record 7.32m ( 24 ft 1⁄4 in), she slipped and fell, resulting in a hamstring injury. Not one to concede to defect, Jackie again returned to the field in 1992 and won her second Olympic gold medal in the Heptathlon held in Barcelona, Spain. In 1996 at the age of 34, Jackie competed for the last time in the Olympics game, bringing her long and successful career to a close with three gold, one silver, and two bronze medals. 

Wanting to give back to the community, Jackie, alongside notable athletes such as Muhammad Ali, her brother Al Joyner, Jeff Gordon, Tony Hawks, Lance Armstrong, and few others, established the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation in 1988 to provide an avenue for professional athletes to support the community. The organization offers youth, adults, and families with athletic and academic lessons and the required resources to improve their quality of life.

To learn more about Jackie Joyner-Kersee, visit her official webpage.


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