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Kenny Moore
October 03, 1988
Jackie Joyner-Kersee fulfilled expectations in winning the heptathlon
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October 03, 1988

Proving Her Point

Jackie Joyner-Kersee fulfilled expectations in winning the heptathlon

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Here's how little pressure there was on Jackie Joyner-Kersee. "I'm expecting two golds and two world records," said her husband, Bob Kersee, a few days before releasing Jackie into the heptathlon. (The long-jump competition would begin this week.) "If we don't get 'em, it won't be the coaching."

This was play. Kersee does the coaching, and he knows his wife gets about as many butterflies as Antarctica does. He's the nervous wreck who must prowl the stands, beaming advice by twitches and charades.

Kersee, however, had good reason to harbor supreme hopes. At the Olympic trials in Indianapolis in July, Joyner-Kersee won the heptathlon with a world-record 7,215 points, despite finishing with a mediocre, heat-slowed 800-meter run in 2:20.70. In Seoul's cooler September air she might cut 10 seconds from that time, which would increase her score by 140 points.

The ebullient Kersee meant to keep her loose. After watching 1,000 taekwondoists pick up all the wood they had split in the opening ceremonies, he said, "It'd be great coaching your wife in that sport. 'No, honey, here's how you take a kick to the head.' "

The Kersees were staying in the same hotel as legions of Olympic-junketing Coke executives, which caused Jackie—who represents 7-Up—to duck and dodge every time someone tried to snap her picture. "The umbrellas say Coca-Cola, the water cups say Coca-Cola," she said. "Somebody very nicely got me a cup of water on the practice field, and I said, 'Agh, I can't drink that.' "

This is Mount Olympus, 1988. Loyalties seem to be tested everywhere. When USA Today took Jackie to be photographed near a splendid Buddhist temple, the Reverend Mr. Kersee of St. Luke's Baptist Church in Long Beach, Calif., heard the chanting going on inside the temple and nixed the location. "We got this far," he said. "I'm not going to start pissing God off now."

All precautions make sense in the heptathlon, which sets seven-times-seven traps for both sinew and judgment. Yet Joyner-Kersee made Friday's first event, the 100-meter hurdles, seem a breeze. A breeze with a little lull, actually, as she got out strongly, was almost caught by East Germany's Sabine John and then drove away to win in 12.69. That was .02 and four points better than her performance at the trials.

But the high jump hurt her. Her best is 6'4". Struggling to get her speed right on a slightly downhill approach, she needed two tries to clear 6'1�". Though she strained her left patellar tendon trying, she could go no higher. The second-worst high-jump performance of her career in a major meet earned her only 1,054 points and put her 87 points behind record pace.

Her knee taped, Joyner-Kersee recovered 11 points with a 51'10" shot put and then lost 27 points with a time of 22.56 in the 200-meter run. At the end of the first day, she was 103 points behind her Indy pace, though 181 in front of John, who was in second place. "The woman is leaving with the gold," said her physiotherapist, Bob Forster. "But we'll be doing some work tonight."

Forster and Kersee treated Jackie with ice, ultrasound and cross-fiber massages. She slept with mild electric current thrumming through the injured knee. "After the first day," said Kersee, "people wrote off the world record. They were people who didn't know Jackie."

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