When she was 10, Gail used her mother's teaching materials when friends came over to play. "The reading level of one kid," says Gail, "went from first grade to third because of the work we did together that summer. I used to want to be an elementary school teacher, but now I think that by then it's almost too late to start. I really want to go after kids in the earliest years, when they're such sponges."
Devers is a ferocious reader. "I love long novels," she says. "I have to slow myself down. I'm always whipping through 500 pages in a day and a half. I'm mad when a book's over."
Having begun life as a middle-aged soul, Devers just got older. "I crochet," she says. "I do the crossword puzzle. At heart, I'm a grandmother."
Devers is quite at ease with her own eccentricities, among which are 1) a monkey fetish, which she satisfies with a collection of stuffed animals; 2) such an abundance of energy that she refuses to sit cooped up in a movie theater for two hours; and 3) a lust to pry into the forbidden and the grotesque. "I ask people to take off bandages so I can look at their sores," she says. Famous for discussing with grisly exuberance the ooze that burst from her own feet, Devers now wants to take a night class on the female body and pregnancy. "Obstetrics and gynecology are fascinating," she says.
Thus it was that Devers—secure in herself, able in the way of a good responsive Baptist to withstand being preached to, and strong of stomach—presented the perfect clay for Kersee to mold and inspirit.
Who knows how Kersee was formed. He seems as inexplicable as the Supreme Being, omniscient, ubiquitous, demanding much, offering little but distant glory, juggling justice and mercy forever and ever. Amen. As much as both he and Devers assure you that he's always in control of his emotions, it can still seem to the unbaptized that tactical and training decisions hit him with the force of seizure. He can be furious when athletes don't share the clarity of his vision of them and for them. And he can rage at the hint that one of his athletes uses performance-enhancing drugs, as he did when such suspicions were raised about Devers after the Barcelona 100. (Nor is his predictive power confined to sport. He saw The Crying Game's surprise coming a mile away.)
Having prepared Brisco to win three Olympic golds in 1984, Florence Griffith Joyner to take three more in 1988 and his wife, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, to win three golds and set four world records between 1986 and 1992, Kersee is not ungrateful. "It scares me," he says, "the responsibility that comes with such athletes. I tell them, 'I'm not going to physically or mentally harm you. No scars. Hard work. Pain, sure. No scars.' "
"I'm one of those 'question' people," says Devers. "I always ask why."
"I don't like to be questioned," says Kersee, "but I welcome a serious request for the reason behind a given workout or technique." But, Kersee says, "I stay a step ahead or they become the teacher, and I can't have that."
"He knows us all," says Devers. "He knows how far he can take each of us. He doesn't think I'm aggressive enough...."