She’s Hep to the Fact It’s Over
Even though she didn’t win her final competition, Jackie Joyner-Kersee left track and field triumphantly Saturday night. Losing didn’t matter.
Considered the world’s greatest female athlete, Joyner-Kersee electrified the fans just with her presence. Of course, it would have been only fitting had she won.
But after an exhausting week that included winning the Goodwill Games heptathlon, a dinner honoring her retirement and a series of public appearances to mark the end of a remarkable career, Joyner-Kersee was too tired to muster a final victory. She just went out with style and grace--and a lot of tears.
In the U.S. Open, billed as “Track and Field’s Farewell to JJK,” Joyner-Kersee was sixth in the long jump with a best of 20 feet 11 3/4 inches, almost four feet short of her all-time best. Her series was one of the worst of her illustrious career: 19-9 3/4, 20-3, 19-9 3/4, 16-1 (on which she fell on a knee), 20-9 1/4 and 20-11 3/4.
“I just wanted to walk away knowing I did my best,” the emotional Joyner-Kersee said. “I’ve done this for so many years. I know I did my best. I really didn’t want it to end, but I told myself, ‘Jackie, you can’t run forever.’ ”
A near-capacity crowd of 9,100 gathered in Ralph Korte Stadium at Southern Illinois Edwardsville to honor Joyner-Kersee, 36, who was born in nearby East St. Louis. Her performance could not detract from her magnificent accomplishments throughout the years.
She won six Olympic medals, including golds in the heptathlon in 1988 and 1992 and the long jump in 1988. She won four world championship medals--all gold--in the heptathlon in 1987 and 1993 and in the long jump in 1987 and 1991.
She set the world record in the heptathlon four times between 1986 and 1988 and still owns the record with 7,291 points in the Seoul Olympics. She set the world record in the long jump in 1987 and still has the American record of 24-7.
Joyner-Kersee said after Saturday’s competition she was happy that she would not have to compete again. “I have no regrets,” she said.
As for losing in her final competition, “It wasn’t meant to be,” Joyner-Kersee said.
Ceremonies included Gordon Bush, the major of East St. Louis, proclaiming Saturday as Jackie Joyner-Kersee Day and giving her a key to the city. USA Track & Field retired a No. 7 uniform in her name, signifying the seven events of the heptathlon.