"As a competitor, you don't observe opponents like a coach does," Frederick says. "I couldn't have dissected her skills and predicted her point potential, but I always thought she would be the one to lead the next generation, and it had to do with the kind of person she was. Hers was a real talent, not a forced one. She wasn't driven to compensate for some bitterness or character failing. She felt good about herself. She had a sense of purpose. With Kersee's direction, she really gave herself to all seven events and had the faith to stand the waiting."
By that, Frederick means the years heptathletes must nurse their hopes between the grand contests, the World Championships and the Olympics. "Almost anyone else with a great individual talent such as Jackie's long jumping would want to show their talent, not wait and train for multievents," says Frederick. "But she stayed true to the larger challenge. It's inspiring to me. I'm glad she's there."
Jackie had always been a star, so she had always understood that the attention she received for it was a side issue, certainly not anything that ought to affect her friends. But here were promising boyfriends folding under the pressure. "I went through some relationships with guys who couldn't handle the praise I got," she says. "It was discouraging. It was educational."
The possibility seemed to loom that her mother's influence was too strong, that having been kept away from men until she could see them clearly, Jackie would never be able to find one good enough. "I got my hopes up a few times, but things still would never click," she says. "I worried that maybe I was meant to be alone."
But her friendship with the demanding Kersee continued to grow. "We could talk about absolutely anything," she says. "And whatever acclaim came to me didn't bother him." Indeed, Kersee sometimes found himself counseling her about why it was that guys said they loved her and then immediately tried to drag her from public attention.
Finally, inaudibly, came the click. They were perfect for each other. "We're complementary personalities," says Kersee. "I'm abrasive with promoters and coaches. Jackie gets along with everybody. She's happy at a banquet table. I have a fit. She's instinctive. She'll go out and lift a building and not ponder over it. I'll want to get the blueprints, find the right beam, decide on an underhand or overhand grip...."
And Jackie is the one woman who can understand the time and thought Kersee puts into coaching. Not only is he now the women's head coach at UCLA, he also guides such stars as triple Olympic gold medal-winning sprinter Valerie Brisco (their exuberant exchange of congratulations, which took the form of their wrestling each other to the ground in a celebratory heap, is one of the most vivid memories of the Los Angeles Games) and hurdler Andre Phillips. "They are like my roses," says Kersee, delivering a parable. "They all grow and bloom at the same time because I water and prune and feed them all the same amounts, all at the same time."
Jackie and Bob were wed on Jan. 11, 1986, in tiny Saint Luke's Baptist Church in Long Beach, where Kersee is associate pastor. Al gave his sister away and also served as chief photographer. "When they asked, 'Who gives this woman?' I was out in the crowd showing [Olympic 4 X 100-meter-relay gold medalist] Jeanette Bolden how to work the camera," says Al. " 'Agh! I do!' I said, 'and good luck.' " Kersee and Joyner took forever to get the rings on each other's fingers, so hopeless were they at smothering their laughter.
"This," said the preacher, "is going to be a happy marriage." So it is. Kersee seems able to step nimbly back and forth from coach to husband. "I coached her long before I married her," he says. "If she noticed too much change in the hard-ass coach that I am, she'd question that." But Al sees them at home. "He just switches," he says with wonder. "He cooks. He waits on her. You'd never know he was such a slave driver."
Only by the results. In May 1986, Jackie went to Gotzis, Austria, and regained the American heptathlon record with 6,841 points, defeating East Germany's best, Anke Behmer.