Jackie Joyner-Kersee is often regarded as the best all-around female athlete in the world and the all-time greatest heptathlete. She has won three gold, one silver and one bronze Olympic medals. At 23 feet nine inches, she holds the American record for the long jump. With her score of 7,161, she was the first woman to earn more than 7,000 points in the heptathlon, and has held the heptathlon world record since 1986.
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Jacqueline Joyner was born in East St. Louis, Illinois, on March 3, 1962. She was inspired to compete in multiple events after seeing a 1975 television movie about "Babe" Didrikson.
She won four consecutive National Junior Pentathlon Championships, the first at the age of 14, and also played volleyball in high school, but she excelled at basketball and accepted a basketball scholarship to UCLA. There she earned All-America honors as a four-year Bruins starter at forward.
Her UCLA coach, Bob Kersee, saw her talent and encouraged her to train for multiple-event contests.
Jackie represented the United States at the 1983 world championships in Helsinki, Finland, and later competed at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, where she won the silver medal in the heptathlon -- a two-day contest comprising the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, and 200-meter race on the first day, and the long jump, javelin, and 800-meter race on the second day.
Jackie married her coach, Bob Kersee, in 1986, the same year she gave up basketball for the heptathlon, setting two world records within one month. At the inaugural Goodwill Games In Moscow, she became the first woman ever to break the 7,000-point barrier.
In 1987, Joyner-Kersee competed at the indoor and outdoor track and field championships in the United States, the Pan-American Games in Indianapolis and the world championships in Rome, where she won gold medals in the long jump and heptathlon.
In 1988, she surpassed her own record, scoring 7,291 points in the Olympic heptathlon in Seoul, South Korea, winning the gold medal and setting the world, Olympic, and American records for the event. Joyner-Kersee also won the gold medal and set the Olympic record in the long jump at Seoul, with a leap of 24 feet three inches.
In the '92 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, she won the heptathlon again and took third in the long jump. She later captured the heptathlon gold medal at the 1993 world championships in Stuttgart, Germany.
A strong-willed competitor, Jackie Joyner-Kersee comes from a family of talented athletes. Her father, Alfred, was a hurdler and football player in high school, and her brother Al was also an Olympic athlete. Al's wife was Olympic sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner.
Joyner-Kersee has received many awards, including the 1985 Broderick Cup as outstanding collegiate woman athlete, the James E. Sullivan Award in 1986 and the Jesse Owens Award in 1986 and '87. She was named Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1987, and became the first woman to win The Sporting News Man of the Year Award in 1988.
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