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On this day in history: birthdays

On March 3, 1962, Jackie Joyner-Kersee was born in St. Louis, Illinois. Joyner-Kersee is a highly decorated track and field athlete, who is known as one of the greatest heptathlon competitors, as well as a talented long jumper. In 1987, she was named by Sports Illustrated as the “Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century” for her athletic feats.

Joyner-Kersee, a six-time Olympic medalist, earned three gold medals during her Olympic career which spanned four Olympic Games. To this day, her heptathlon record from the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea, remains unbeaten.

While competing at Rome’s Olympic stadium during the World Track and Field Championships, Joyner-Kersee proved just how talented an athlete she was when she achieved the highest first day total in history in the heptathlon event, bringing in 564 points more than second-place athlete Larisa Nikitina. She also holds the event world record, after bringing in 7,291 points during the 1988 Seoul Olympics. This record is about six hundred points higher than the men’s heptathlon record which stands at 6,645 points after the 2012 Olympics, a record set by fellow American athlete Ashton Eaton.  

Joyner-Kersee started her career as an athlete after attending the University of California at Los Angeles, where she played on the women’s basketball team as well as competed for the track and field team. During the 1983-84 academic year, Joyner-Kersee chose to red-shirt out of her basketball season to take time to focus on training for the 1984 Olympics, where she would compete in the heptathlon. However, she was still a dedicated basketball player, as she scored 1,167 points during her collegiate career. In 1998, she was honored by UCLA as “one of the 15 greatest players” to ever attend the university.

After competing in the 1984 summer Olympics, held in Los Angeles, Joyner-Kersee was awarded the silver medal in the heptathlon. She finished only five points behind Australian heptathlete Glynis Nunn. She competed in the event again at the 1986 Goodwill Games and was the first woman to break the 7,000-point barrier after she earned 7,148 points.

In 2000, Jackie Joyner-Kersee retired officially from active participation in the sports world, and dedicated her life to helping others, especially children and young athletes. The Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation was established in 1988 to improve athletic resources and introduce resources to help improve quality of life, mainly focused in St. Louis, Illinois. In 2007, Joyner-Kersee along with many other world-famous athletes and public figures founded Athletes for Hope, which is an organization that helps professional athletes find communities that would benefit from volunteerism and community support.

She has also been awarded multiple honors as a highly decorated and influential athlete. She was awarded the Dick Enberg Award in 2011 for her dedication to upholding integrity in team sports. Joyner-Kersee has also been given the honor of having an award named after her. In 1996, the Jesse Owens Award was split into two categories: male and female athlete of the year. In 2013, the female counterpart of the Jesse Owens Award was renamed in her honor and is now called the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Award.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee is one of the strongest athletes of modern time, and is remembered for her duty towards uplifting others as much as she is remembered as a feat of modern athleticism.  

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