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African-American women history-makers in sports Jackie Joyner-Kersee

By Bessie L. Oliver | 3/6/2014, 5:56 p.m.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Jackie Joyner-Kersee was born March 3, 1962, in East St. Louis, Ill. Joyner-Kersee is considered to be the greatest female athlete ever. She became the first to score more than 7,000 points in the heptathlon. 

Joyner-Kersee showed great athletic ability early in life. As a teenager, she won the first of four consecutive National Junior Pentathlon championships. She was a determined high school student and graduated near the top of her class while competing on the school’s volleyball, basketball and track teams. 

When she was a junior, she set the record for the Illinois girls high jump at 6.68 meters. Joyner-Kersee’s success in high school landed her a scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles. Her initial focus was on basketball and the long jump.

In 1981, Joyner-Kersee began training for the heptathlon under Bob Kersee, who she later 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.

Joyner-Kersee’s achievements include four World Outdoor Championships gold medals, and she still holds the world record of 7,291 points in the women’s heptathlon. She also was a four-time Olympian, winning a gold medal in 1988, bronze in 1992 and silver in 1984 for the long jump. In 1987 and 1991, she won gold medals in the long jump. She won the national long jump nine times and was a four-time U.S. long jump record holder, two-time U.S. 60-meter hurdles record holder and six-time and current U.S. indoor long jump record holder.

Joyner-Kersee’s best heptathlon events were the long jump, 100-meter hurdles, 200-meter run and high jump. She also competed in single events, in particular the long jump, for which she tied the world record (7.45 meters). She won the NCAA heptathlon title in 1982 and 1983.

After the 1996 Olympics, Joyner-Kersee played professional basketball with the Richmond Rage. She left the team midway through the season to compete in the long jump indoors. In 1997, she published “A Kind of Grace: The Autobiography of the World’s Greatest Female Athlete.”