Jackie Joyner Kersee

Jackie Joyner Kersee  was a track and field athlete who dominated the women’s heptathlon.  To many she is one of the greatest athletes to compete.Her accomplishments are numerous and her life story is one of intense perseverance. She was born in 1962 in East St. Louis. Her family struggled financially. Her mother was a nurse and her father was a railroad construction worker. Although her family did not have much, they always provided her with love and support. They encouraged her to do well in both her academics and sports activities. Kersee showed her abilities at a very young age. At age 12 she was able to leap more than 17 feet. Kersee developed her early athletic abilities at a local recreation center were she learned dance and track. Jackie Joyner Kersee despite these amazing athletic talents has asthma. Her earliest successes were winning the National Junior title between the ages 14 and 17. During high school she played both basketball and volleyball. She would then go on to attended the University of California at Los Angeles, receiving degrees in history and communications. There she played basketball and ran track. She would later be coached by Bob Kersee who would later become her husband. Her rise to prominence began in 1984. She competed in the heptathlon event winning a silver medal. She lost getting a gold by just five points, but that gave her motivation to improve. A personal motto of her’s was ” I’m a firm believer in the tree Ds- determination, desire, and dedication.”


Kersee was a type of person with much resilience. Second place was a concept that was not conceivable to her. She then developed a new strategy and continue to train for her next competition. Standing at 5 feet 10 inches and  146 pounds of muscle Jackie Joyner Kersee embarked on a long and successful athletic career.

        Jackie Joyner Kersee returned with impeccable performances. At the Goodwill Games in Moscow  her score 7,148 amazed fans and fellow competitors. That was only a small sample of more amazing athletic feats. She increased that previous score ten more points. The 1986 proved that she was going to be a powerful force in the 1988 Olympics. Kersee continued to break records. She won gold medals in the 1988 Olympics in the long jump and heptathlon. Even with an injured knee she was able to gain 7,291 points in her athletic events. The 1992 Olympics also brought her success. There she got a gold medal in the heptathlon and a bronze medal in the long jump. Kersee had won multiple events in three Olympics and no athlete has ever done so. Kersee has stated one of her objectives was to “open the doors for minority women and women in general.” Growing up during the 1960s when opportunities were limited for African Americans and women left an impression on her. She struggled, but she wanted to improve her community and give back to it. Jackie Joyner Kersee from the early 1990s to present has been active in philanthropy and charity. The Jackie Joyner Kersee Community Foundation continues to provide educational and recreational sports programs  for youth in the East St.Louis area.

_Jackie Joyner 1992
Learn more about The JJK Foundation here:  The Jackie Joyner Kersee  Foundation .

Her athletic accomplishments got her television exposure and endorsements. During her  athletic career and after she serves as an excellent representative for women’s sports. When she was competing the public still held dubious and sometimes negative views in regards to women in sports. Jackie Joyner Kersee had the talent, charm, charisma and beauty to challenge stereotypes and myths. Her last Olympic competition was in 1996. Unfortunately a leg injury cause her to withdraw. However she did win a bronze medal in the long jump before  the hamstring injury became unbearable. Her athletic pursuits did not end there. Kersee would play basketball for the Richmond Rage under the American Basketball league. She would play a total of seventeen games, but was not as much a success as in her track and field career. Kersee would return to track  in the Goodwill Games of 1998. There she scored a total 6,502 points. Lower than her previous scores, this is still quite impressive. Athletes who compete pentathhlon  or heptathlon rarely win past the age of 34. The years of top physical performance are between the ages of 18 and 30. For Kersee age is just a number and she still loved to compete.


Kersee attempted to qualify for the long jump in 2000 for the Sydney Olympics. She finished sixth and failed to qualify. It was a long competitive career from 1984 to 2000. Kersee continued to be involved in the sports world even after retiring from active competition.

        Jackie Joyner Kersee currently is on the board of directors for USA Track and Field. It is the governing body for the sport in the United States responsible for rules and various regulations. She along with other athletic professionals founded  Athletes for Hope  another charity that encourages athletes to give back to the community. Besides that it helps with coaching and assisting athletes from the very young to the more experienced. Non-profit organization work seems to be her competition now and promoting a positive image of the sport. Track and field does not get as much exposure as football, soccer, or tennis. Having a famous figure like her promoting it could get more of the public interested. Jackie Kersee also wrote an autobiography chronicling her career and early life.

 With the assistance of Sonja Steptoe A Kind of Grace : Jackie Joyner Kersee the Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Athlete was published in 1997.  This was the first book in her own words describing the triumphs and challenges through her life and career. Like most autobiographies there is a level of embellishment when describing certain events. However, when you reach a high level it can be forgiven.

       Jackie Joyner Kersee has been named by Sports Illustrated ” the greatest female athlete of the 20th century.” That title is well deserved. Her personal bests are a testament to a skilled physical prowess. Her long jump best was 7.49m. Kersee 100 metres hurdles was 12.69 s. Her high jump was 1.93m. Kersee’s shot put throw was 15.80m. Her 200 meter  event was a time of 22.56 s. Her 800 meter event time was 2 minutes and 8.51 s. These top performances amounted to a total of 7,921 points. Certainly she has made an impact on sports history and women in sport. There still remains the conviction that women are not serious contenders in the sports arena, but Kersee effectively destroyed that notion. The sports community has recognized her and she boasts multiple awards. She won the James E. Sullivan Award ( 1986), the Jesse Owens Award ( 1986 and 1987), awarded the Order of Lincoln (2005),  and the Dick Enberg Award (2011). There continues to be recognition of her and hopefully history will document and preserve her feats as well.

         Jackie Joyner Kersee has stated ” I never viewed sports as unfeminine I’ve seen it as a saving grace.” What she meant was that it was a gateway for her to advance herself. She also faced racist prejudice from other competitors and negative commentary from individuals spiteful of an African American having success. She once said “that it is important to expose children to thing they think are off limits to them.” African American children especially, in her view should understand this even though an American society is generally hostile and exclusionary. Walls as she once said are personal barriers we put up. They only stop you if you let it.


 Jackie Joyner Kersee was proof that the Title IX legislation was effective at getting more women into sports. The women of the current Olympics owe so much to her and the athletes than came before. Kersee realizes the importance of social justice and that is why she has devoted most of her to philanthropy. Although very busy, she still finds time for fitness. Many retired athletes still train, because they love their sport so much. Her philosophy on training is quality versus quantity. Quantity is the total amount of training, were quality targets specific physical fitness elements. Kersee prefers quality now, due to the fact she is no longer competing. Her exercise regimen she describes as this: ”  I try to get a 4-mile walk in — which should take about an hour — then do some weight lifting. I like doing 200-meter intervals on the track, a circuit in the weight room or anything dealing with cardio or pumping the heart.” Kersee’s advice to new athletes is in her words “learn to listen.” Vital information can be acquired if one takes advice. When an athlete wins on multiple occasions sometimes they feel that they know best, but there is always more to learn. Kersee does not want others to follow in her footsteps, but to find their own way. Humble even though a prominent figure, she rarely makes TV appearances and occasionally does public speaking. Jackie Joyner Kersee is what an athlete should be, persistent, honorable, and contributing to the community.

Jackie Joyner Kersee

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