Joyner- Kersee exits in bronze Shakes off injury for medal on last jump

Atlanta Olympics

August 03, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The emotional hangover was apparent last night at Olympic Stadium. The electricity from Thursday night's magical events were gone. Michael Johnson and Dan O'Brien were nowhere to be found.

And, so it seemed, was Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Joyner-Kersee, the Olympic record holder in the long jump and the 1988 Olympic champion, had barely made the cut for the finals. And, once she got there, Joyner-Kersee seemed to be going backward.

She fouled on her first attempt.

She jumped only 21 feet, 3 1/4 inches on her next one.

She had one jump left.

Though she didn't quite pull off the late-jump heroics that Carl Lewis did here earlier this week, what Joyner-Kersee accomplished was remarkable nonetheless.

Downright astounding under the circumstances. Good enough for bronze.

Sixth after the first three jumps of the finals, and seemingly out of medal contention after five, Joyner-Kersee pulled out one last minor miracle. With her right leg heavily bandaged because of a badly strained hamstring, Joyner-Kersee jumped 22 feet, 11 3/4 inches to win her second straight Olympic bronze medal in the long jump and her sixth Olympic medal -- including three gold -- overall.

"It was tough," said Joyner-Kersee, 34, who trails only swimmer Shirley Babashoff (eight) and gymnast Shannon Miller (seven) for total medals among U.S. women. "I didn't get gold or silver, but I'll take the bronze. To be on the podium again, I'm happy. The crowd was fantastic. They motivated me. I wish I had done better for them. I'm just glad that I got a medal."

With her first jump of the night, going 23-4 1/2 , Chioma Ajunwa of Nigeria won the gold medal, the first ever in the long jump by an African woman. With her second jump of the night, one of 23-0 1/2 , Fiona May of Italy took the silver.

"Coming to Atlanta, it looked as if I would compete in only the 100 [meters], but when my coach and I saw the whole long-jump situation, we decided to compete in the long jump, too," said Ajunwa, 24. "Coming from nowhere to win the first Nigerian women's gold in a technical event, God was working on it, too."

Talk about coming from nowhere, that's what Joyner-Kersee seemed to do. The crowd was waiting for her, groaning with each disappointing attempt. But with one last jump, more than a foot off her Olympic record of 24-3 1/4 in 1988, Joyner-Kersee went out on her own terms.

Not as an Olympic champion, which she had been in both the long jump and heptathlon in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea, and in the heptathlon again in Barcelona, Spain, four years ago. But she didn't hobble off as she had last Saturday, after pulling out of the heptathlon at the 1996 Olympic Games after just one event.

Instead, she left with a wave to the crowd and a smile, knowing that her legacy as perhaps the world's greatest female athlete will have a happy final chapter.

"I still want to compete a bit this year," said Joyner-Kersee, a former All-America basketball player at UCLA who might try to play in one of the new women's professional leagues starting this fall. "I was in great shape, but I got injured. Now I'll go home and recover."

Considering that Joyner-Kersee was jumping on one leg, it might have been her greatest achievement yet.

"This one really tested me as far as determination and my will to win," Joyner-Kersee said. "I don't like pain, and I was in a lot of pain."

Pulling out of the heptathlon turned out to be the smartest decision Joyner-Kersee and her husband/coach, Bobby Kersee, made. It led to last night's bronze.

"You give the best you got and you pray," Bobby Kersee said. "Those things go together. I hope she's happy. Of all the competitions, this one was the best."

Pub Date: 8/03/96

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