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Kenny Moore
June 05, 1989
Jackie Joyner-Kersee triumphantly took on the 400 hurdles
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June 05, 1989

Quest For New Conquests

Jackie Joyner-Kersee triumphantly took on the 400 hurdles

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Bruce Jenner's Bud Light Classic always signals renewal in that it kicks off the annual outdoor season of major championship track meets. But last Saturday, on the blue San Jose City College track, the rising sap theme was sounded insistently. Old athletes sprang to the call so freshly and new ones so competently that the occasion was lent a vigor not always present in a post-Olympic year.

Witness the evergreen Steve Scott, America's premier miler for most of the last 12 years. With a backstretch gale filling his nostrils with the nutmeg aroma of blooming star jasmine, the 33-year-old runner kicked away over the last 200 meters to win his eighth straight 1,500 or mile in this meet, in 3:39.33. Since late last year he has devoted his training to the 5,000, but he says, "For as long as I run, I'll run miles. I have a tot of pride in being the top American miler. I guard that like I guard my kids."

For the new, follow the spear of rangy, slickly pomaded Kazuhiro Mizoguchi, that rare creature, a world-class Japanese javelin thrower. He reached 287'5", a bare two inches from the world record of Czechoslovakia's Jan Zelezny.

Then there was an athlete who represented both renewal and new horizons. You could identify Jackie Joyner-Kersee by her accompanying covey of giddy teenage girls, all faintly ill with love.

Popularity is not new to her, of course, but after winning gold medals in the Olympic long jump and heptathlon and raising her own world record in the latter, Joyner-Kersee is now a star of the brightest order, even though she isn't used to being a celebrity yet. "It's still funny to me, having people in airports say, 'Hi, Jackie,' " she says. "Of course, I love to talk about anything you want to talk about, so it's nice. It's like suddenly having millions of close friends."

That she isn't weighed down by the crush suggests that she inspires warmth and endearment rather than unbridled passion. "People have been very respectful, but I also believe it is the responsibility of Olympic champions to give something back to youth, to the public," she says. "It's our duty."

Joyner-Kersee has seen her duty clearly. Oh, there are hefty endorsement contracts with Adidas, 7-Up and the asthma medicine Primatene Mist. And there is The Gap clothing ad with a photo of her in a moment of elegant solemnity ("Let's say it was one of my better pictures," she giggles, "like one in a million"). But she has spent most of her time since Seoul on causes that are centered on children, including motivational talks sponsored by McDonald's, which she has given at school assemblies in large U.S. cities. And she has called at uncounted hospitals and churches.

"I like kids to get to know me," Joyner-Kersee says. "Sure, I've achieved a lot, but the thing is to let them see that everyone is...raw material. I want to be a good statement of possibilities."

Her sister-in-law, sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner, found her own post-Olympic whirl of commercials and appearances so taxing that she abruptly retired from competition at 29. What has been the effect of celebrity on the 27-year-old Joyner-Kersee? "I've had to cut my training by about 60 percent," she says. "I get in fewer days, and less work on the days I do get."

But she has done an inspired thing. She has added another event to her already exhausting repertoire, the lung-racking 400-meter hurdles.

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