"The struggle still goes on," says Kersee. "She feels if it weren't for this clown making her do heptathlon, she'd be the world-record holder in the long jump. The crux of all my troubles with athletes is sometimes I'm working toward a goal we've set—and they're not."
But in Jackie's mind, she has come around. "The heptathlon has been the best for me," she says now. "If I'd only long-jumped, I'd have spent much less time on the track, and knowing me I'd have gone out and found something entirely different. Who knows what."
Al, meanwhile, was showing flashes of brilliance amid years of hamstring pulls. In 1983, both Al and Jackie made the U.S. team for the World Championships in Helsinki. "I'd dedicated my jumping to our mother," Al says.
Brother and sister had grown even closer since Mary's death. They each did their best in meets attended by the other. "We got to have a special kind of ESP," says Al. They even got injured together. Both were hurt in Helsinki—each suffered a hamstring pull—and Jackie, after competing on the first day, could not complete the heptathlon, while Al finished eighth in the triple jump.
"Jackie," Al said to his sister, "it's just not our time yet."
Al moved to L.A., and Kersee started coaching them both. Jackie took a winter off from basketball and trained eight hours a day. It all came down to Aug. 4, 1984, the eighth evening of the Los Angeles Olympics, when the men's triple jump final and the last three events of the heptathlon were contested.
"They say that there was no crime at all in East St. Louis that night," says Al.
Jackie was favored after her American record of 6,520 points in the U.S. trials, but she had strained her left hamstring again. Al was not thought to be a contender.
He fixed that in a hurry. Kersee had taught him to control his great speed on the runway. His first jump was 56'7½", a personal best by nearly three inches and the best of the round. The jump still led after three of the six rounds.
As the fourth round began, Al saw that Jackie was lining up for her last event, the 800 meters. She had finished more than two feet short of her best in the long jump and now led Australia's Glynis Nunn by only 31 points. That meant she could let Nunn beat her by 2.13 seconds, or about 14 yards, in the 800 and still take the gold.