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Jackie Joyner-Kersee: Olympic Champion

Color photograph of Olympic Champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee throwing the javelin

Born in East St. Louis, Illinois, and raised in a house she remembers as "little more than paper and sticks," Jackie Joyner-Kersee eventually became known throughout the world as one of the finest female athletes of all time. The winner of six Olympicmedals, three of them gold, a record-holder in both the multi-event heptathlon and the long jump, and a world-class basketball player, Joyner-Kersee stands as an example of how strength and determination can triumph over adversity. She has battled racial discrimination and gender bias and triumphed in the male-dominated field of athletic competition, despite her personal battle with a debilitating case of exercise-induced asthma.

As a teenager, she won four consecutive National Junior Pentathlon Championships, the first at the age of 14. She played volleyball in high school, but she excelled at basketball and accepted a basketball scholarship to UCLA. There she earned All-America honors as a four-year Bruins starter at forward.

Jackie competed at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, where she won the silver medal in the heptathlon. In 1988, she surpassed her own record, scoring 7,291 points in the Olympic heptathlon in Seoul, South Korea, winning the gold medal and setting the world, Olympic, and American records for the event. Joyner-Kersee also won the gold medal and set the Olympic record in the long jump at Seoul, with a leap of 24 feet three inches.

In the '92 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, she won the heptathlon again and took third in the long jump. A sufferer of exercise-induced asthma, Joyner-Kersee officially retired from track and field in 2001, at age 38. Sports Illustrated for Women magazine voted Joyner-Kersee the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th century, just ahead of Babe Didrikson Zaharias.Following her retirement, she founded the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation, which is aimed at encouraging youth in her underprivileged hometown to play sports.

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