Black History Month: Celebrating Jackie Joyner-Kersee
As we celebrate Black History Month, let’s recall the stunning athletic and physical accomplishments of Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
In 1990, Sports Illustrated named Jackie Joyner-Kersee the greatest female athlete of the 20th Century.
At that time, no one challenged the Sports Illustrated bold proclamation. Since then, no female athlete has come close to rivaling Joyner-Kersee’s brilliant athleticism.
Joyner-Kersee remains the most decorated female track and field Olympian ever. Her incredible point total in the heptathlon may never be surpassed.
An athletic prodigy from St. Louis, MO, Joyner-Kersee’s basketball ability enabled her to earn a scholarship to UCLA. Jackie starred for the Lady Bruins and graduated in 1985 with an impressive 1,167 career points.
However, basketball would not be the reason why Sports Illustrated acknowledged her athletic greatness just five years later. Following her graduation from UCLA, track and field consumed Jackie’s life and propelled her to international stardom.
Ironically, an old movie galvanized her interest in a tremendously challenging, but mostly unheralded, track and field event. The 1975 film about legendary sports star Babe Didrikson Zaharias inspired Joyner-Kersee to catalyze her superb athleticism in the heptathlon.
Following her college basketball career, Jackie devoted her time to master this grueling sport comprised of seven individual events: the 110m hurdles, 200m dash, 800m run, shot put, javelin throw, high jump and long jump.
As evidenced by her famous quote, “It is better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret,” Jackie Joyner-Kersee had no regrets when competing on the track. She prepared expertly and excelled at both the long jump and the heptathlon. At one time, she held world records in both sports. Her 7,291 points in the heptathlon may never be broken.
Jackie’s unrivaled athleticism enabled her to capture Olympic gold medals in 1988 in Seoul in the long jump and heptathlon and in 1992 in Barcelona in the heptathlon. She won three more Olympic medals (one silver and two bronze) in addition to winning four gold medals (two in the long jump and two in the heptathlon) in the Track and Field World Championships in 1987 and 1991.
The 5'10" and 150 lb. Joyner-Kersee’s most incredible feat may not have been her dominance in the long jump and heptathlon. Her biggest accomplishment may have been her courage and resolve to excel as a world class athlete while overcoming the debilitating medical condition known as exercise induced asthma.
Wow! That’s a noteworthy accomplishment for a woman who can confidently look back on her career with no regrets. She’s also featured in my book Favorite Female Athletes.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee always looked forward. She carefully prepared for whatever shoe sought to do and emerged victoriously. Not only is she recognized as an amazing athlete. She’s also known as an inspiring role model who refused to allow exercise induced asthma to deter her from becoming, as Sports Illustrated chronicled, the greatest female athlete of the 20th Century.
MIKE on sports!