Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Track and Field Athlete

Jackie Joyner-Kersee, 1985
Jackie Joyner-Kersee, 1985. Getty Images / Tony Duffy

Dates: March 3, 1962 -

Known for: Dominance in women's track and field. Considered by many to be the best all-around female athlete in the world.

About Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Jackie Joyner-Kersee was born in 1962 in East St. Louis, Illinois. She is the second child and eldest daughter of Alfred and Mary Joyner. Her parents were still in their teens at the time, and struggled to provide for their growing family. They christened their first daughter Jacquiline after then-first-lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The family story is that one of her grandmothers had declared that "Some day this girl will be the first lady of something."

As a child, Jackie was growing up too fast for Mary, who knew the difficulty of life as a teenage mother. Jackie has said that "even at 10 or 12, I was a hot, fast little cheerleader." Mary told Jackie and her older brother, Al, that they couldn't date until they were 18. Jackie and Al focused on athletics instead of dating. Jackie enrolled in the new track program at the local Mary Brown Community Center, where she had been studying modern dance.

Jackie and Al, who went on to win gold at the 1984 Olympics and marry star runner Florence Griffith, became each other's training partners and support. Al Joyner recalls that "I remember Jackie and me crying together in a back room in that house, swearing that someday we were going to make it. Make it out. Make things different."

Jackie didn't win many races at first, but she became inspired when she watched the 1976 Summer Olympics on television, and decided that "I wanted to go. I wanted to be on TV, too." At the age of 14, Jackie won the first of four straight national junior pentathlon championships.

At Lincoln High School she was a state champion in both track and basketball -- the Lincoln High girls' team won by an average of more than 52 points per game in her senior year. She also played volleyball and encouraged her brother in his athletic career, and she graduated in the top ten percent of her class.

Jackie chose to attend the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) on a basketball scholarship, entering in the fall of 1980. That year, her mother died, suddenly, at 37, from meningitis. After her mother's funeral, Jackie determined to work even harder, to honor her mother's desire for her success.

When she returned to college, she was offered comfort by Bob Kersee, an assistant track coach. Jackie later said, "He let me know he cared about me as a person as well as an athlete."

Kersee saw Jackie's all-round athletic potential and convinced her that multi-event track should be her sport. He was so sure of her talent that he threatened to quit his job if the university did not allow her to switch from basketball to the heptathlon. The university agreed, and Kersee became Joyner's coach.

In 1984, Jackie Joyner won the Olympic silver medal in the heptathlon. In 1985, she set an American record in the long jump, at 23 ft. 9 in. (7.45 m.). On January 11, 1986, she married Bob Kersee and changed her name to Jackie Joyner-Kersee. She went on that year to set a new world record in the heptathlon at the Goodwill Games in Moscow, with 7,148 points, becoming first woman to surpass 7,000 points. She beat her own record just three weeks later, scoring 7,158 points in the U.S. Olympic Festival in Houston, Texas. For these achievements, she received both the James E. Sullivan Award and the Jesse Owens Award for 1986. Jackie Joyner-Kersee won many more events, titles and awards over the next fifteen years.

She retired from track & field competition on February 1, 2001. She is the founder and chair of the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation, created to provide youth, adults, and families with the resources to improve their quality of life and to enhance communities worldwide. In 2000 the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation opened the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in Joyner-Kersee's hometown of East St. Louis, Ill. The JJK Center provides services to thousands of families and youth in the metropolitan St. Louis area. Joyner-Kersee also travels widely as a motivational speaker.

Among her honors:

  • Women in Sport Trophy, International Olympic Committee (IOC), 2007
  • USA Track & Field (USATF) Hall of Fame, 2004
  • International Women's Sports Hall of Fame, 1993
  • Athlete of the Year (first woman chosen for this honor), Sporting News, 1988
  • Sportswoman of the Year, US Olympic Committee (USOC), 1987
  • Female Athlete of the Year, Associated Press, 1987
  • Woman Athlete of the Year, Track & Field News, 1986, 1987, 1994
  • Broderick Cup (top female collegiate athlete in US), American Athletic Union (AAU), 1984-85

Sport: ​Track and field. Specialties: long jump, heptathlon

Country Represented: USA

  • XXIII Olympiad, Los Angeles, California, USA, 1984, Athletics/USA
  • XXIV Olympiad, Seoul, Korea, 1988, Athletics/USA
  • XXV Olympiad, Barcelona, Spain, 1992, Athletics/USA
  • XXVI Olympiad, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 1996, Athletics/USA

Also known as: Jacqueline Joyner, Jackie Joyner, Jacqueline Joyner-Kersee, Jackie Kersee


  • Silver Medal, Women's Heptathlon, XXIII Olympiad, Los Angeles, California, USA, 1984
  • Gold Medal, Women's Heptathlon, XXIV Olympiad, Seoul, Korea, 1988
  • Gold Medal, Women's Long Jump, XXIV Olympiad, Seoul, Korea, 1988
  • Gold Medal, Women's Heptathlon, XXV Olympiad, Barcelona, Spain, 1992
  • Bronze Medal, Women's Long Jump, XXV Olympiad, Barcelona, Spain, 1992
  • Bronze Medal, Women's Long Jump, XXVI Olympiad, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 1996

More Records:

  • Gold Medal, Women's Heptathlon, 2nd IAAF World Championships, Rome, Italy, 1987
  • Gold Medal, Women's Long Jump, 2nd IAAF World Championships, Rome, Italy, 1987
  • Gold Medal, Women's Long Jump, 3rd IAAF World Championships, Tokyo, Japan, 1991
  • Gold Medal, Women's Heptathlon, 4th IAAF World Championships, Stuttgart, Germany, 1993

Jackie Joyner-Kersee posted the six highest scores ever earned in the heptathlon. Her top score is 7,291, for the gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea.


  • Founding Athlete, Athletes for Hope
  • Founder, the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation

Background, Family:

  • Mother: Mary Joyner, nurse's aide
  • Father: Alfred Joyner, Sr., construction, railroad
  • Older brother, Alfredrick (Al), Olympic Gold medalist (triple jump, 1984), husband of the late Florence Griffith Joyner; two younger sisters, Angela and Deborah.

Marriage: husband Bob Kersee (married January 11, 1986; track and field coach - Jackie's coach at UCLA and the one who helped her develop her multi-event talent)

Education: The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) / B.A., history (minor: mass communications) / 1985