Athlete Spotlight: Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Freak Athlete

Name: Jacqueline “Jackie” Joyner-Kersee

Sport: Track and Field

Country: United States

Height: 5’10’’   Weight: 150 lbs.

Date of Birth: March 3, 1962

Accomplishments: Five-time Olympic gold medalist, World Champion nine times, World-Record Holder, 19 Gold medals, one silver medal, two bronze medals


Jacqueline Joyner, an American track and field athlete, was named after Jackie Kennedy. She was born in East St. Louis, Illinois and she completed her high school from East St. Louis Lincoln Senior High School. At the 1980 Olympic Trials, the amazing athlete qualified for the finals in the long jump. She finished the long jump 8th behind another high schooler, Carol Lewis.

After watching a 1975 made-for-TV movie about Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Joyner-Kersee was inspired to play in the multi-disciplinary track and field events. Didrikson, pro golfer, the trackster, and basketball player was selected the “Greatest Female Athlete of the First Half of the 20th Century.” Fifteen years later, Joyner-Kersee was voted the greatest female athlete of “all time” by “Sports Illustrated for Women” magazine. The magazine voted the athlete ahead of Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

The star athlete was ranked among the all-time greatest athletes in the long jump as well as the heptathlon. In those two events, she won two bronze, one silver, and three gold Olympic medals at four different Olympic Games. Joyner-Kersee has joined the Board of Directors for USATF (USA Track & Field) after retiring as a competitive athlete. The USATF is the national governing body of the sport.

The athlete has been involved with several philanthropic efforts as well. She is one of the most popular athletes to have fought severe asthma and overcome it.


On February 21, 1988, Joyner-Kersee was honored as one of the 15 greatest players in UCLA women’s basketball. She was voted as the “Top Woman Collegiate Athlete of the Past 25 Years” in April 2001. The vote was organized among the 976 NCAA member schools. During the 1986 Goodwill Games, she scored over 7,000 points in a heptathlon event and set a record of being the first woman athlete to do so. She was given the James E. Sullivan Award in 1986 as the top amateur athlete in the United States. Joyner-Kersee won gold medals in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea in both the long jump and the heptathlon. She set the heptathlon world record, which is still standing, of 7,291 points in the 1988 Olympics Games.

Off the field:

Joyner-Kersee decided to play pro basketball in 1996 and signed in to play for the Richmond Rage of the fledgling American Basketball League. She was not very successful on the court but fans still loved her. She appeared in 17 games and did not make more than four points in any game. She returned to track again and won the heptathlon at the 1998 Goodwill Games.


Joyner-Kersee was voted the greatest female athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated. She established the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation in 1988 which provides adults, youths and families with the resources and athletic lessons to improve their quality of life. In addition to this, she also founded a charitable organization, Athletes for Hope, in 2007 along with Mia Hamm, Mario Lemieux, Muhammad Ali and several others.