Jacqueline “Jackie” Joyner-Kersee (born March 3, 1962) is a retired American athlete, ranked among the all-time greatest athletes in the women’s heptathlon as well as in the women’s long jump.
She won three gold, one silver, and two bronze Olympic medals, in those two events at four different Olympic Games.
Sports Illustrated for Women magazine voted Joyner-Kersee the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th century, just ahead of Babe Didrikson Zaharias.
Jacqueline Joyner was born March 3, 1962, in East St. Louis, Illinois, and was named after Jackie Kennedy.
As a high school athlete at East St. Louis Lincoln Senior High School, she qualified for the finals in the long jump at the 1980 Olympic Trials, finishing 8th behind another high schooler, Carol Lewis.
She was inspired to compete in multi-disciplinary track and field events after seeing a 1975 made-for-TV movie about Babe Didrikson Zaharias.
Interestingly, Didrikson, the trackster, basketball player, and pro golfer, was chosen the “Greatest Female Athlete of the First Half of the 20th Century.
Joyner showed great enthusiasm for athletics early on, and as a teenager she won the first of four consecutive National Junior Pentathlon championships.
In high school she was a determined student and athlete, graduating near the top of her class and competing on the school’s volleyball, basketball, and track teams.
As a junior, she set the Illinois high-school girls’ long jump record at 6.68 metres (20 feet 7.5 inches).
Her high-school success led to a scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles, where she initially focused on basketball and the long jump.
Joyner began training for the heptathlon in 1981 under the tutelage of assistant track coach Bob Kersee, whom she married in 1986.
At the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, she overcame a pulled hamstring to win the silver medal in the heptathlon, narrowly missing the gold by five points.
She graduated from UCLA in 1985, and on July 7, 1986, Joyner-Kersee finally emerged as the dominant heptathlete, setting a world record (7,148 points) at the Goodwill Games in Moscow.
Her score bettered the old record by 202 points, making her the first heptathlete to top 7,000 points.
Joyner-Kersee set the heptathlon world record (7,291) for the fourth time while winning the gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
In 1992 in Barcelona, Spain, she became the first athlete to win the heptathlon in consecutive Olympic Games.
In her final Olympic appearance at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, Georgia, she earned a bronze medal in the long jump; a hamstring injury forced her to withdraw from the heptathlon.
She retired from track and field competition on February 1, 2001.
She is the founder and chair of the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation, created to provide youth, adults, and families with the resources to improve their quality of life and to enhance communities worldwide.
In 2000 the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation opened the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in Joyner-Kersee’s hometown of East St. Louis, Ill.
The JJK Center provides services to thousands of families and youth in the metropolitan St. Louis area.
Joyner-Kersee also travels widely as a motivational speaker.