“Tonight is really special because of all the medals I’ve won, this one I really had to work for,” said Joyner-Kersee, 34, who has won three golds, a silver and a bronze since 1984 in the long jump and heptathlon. “Not that I didn’t work for other ones, but this one really tested me as far as my determination and my will to really want it. I really don’t like pain, and I was in a lot of pain.”
She had re-injured herself in the first event of the heptathlon, the 100-meter hurdles, Saturday, and had to withdraw. Joyner-Kersee was hoping her strained right leg would hold up. All day Friday, she kept moving so it wouldn’t stiffen. That only made her tired.
When Joyner-Kersee appeared on the track Friday night, the crowd at Olympic stadium did the wave for her; as she passed before each section, spectators applauded or stood in sequence, a show of recognition and respect.
Then Ajunwa, the jumper who preceded her on the runway, leaped 23 feet, 4 1/2 inches, a mark that would stand up all night. Joyner-Kersee’s first two jumps were average, and there was a chance she wouldn’t even qualify for the final eight.
After five jumps, she was still mired in sixth place. She never thought she’d have to take all six jumps.
“I said to myself, ‘OK, I don’t know what I did wrong, but I know there’s more there,’ " said Joyner-Kersee. " ‘Forget about the leg. This is it, Jackie, This is it! All year you trained for this. It’s not like you wanted it to be, but this is your last shot. So either you get on that runway and you attack it and you go after it, or don’t jump at all.’ "
If the leg was going to pull, it was going to pull. At least she would know she had given it her best.
And she jumped 22 feet, 11 3/4, far off the Olympic record of 24-3 1/2 she set in winning the Seoul gold medal, and even farther off her American record of 24-7. But it was enough.
“I guess the human side of me will think back on it, but it won’t do me any good,” she said. “All it’s going to do is bring tears, and tears are not going to change anything. I have to go on and accept this medal.”
Joyner-Kersee pronounced this her last Olympics.
“I wanted so badly to perform well here in the States,” she said.
She confirmed that she is considering playing pro basketball.
A hypothetical question: What about playing basketball in Sydney.
“Oh, that’s a thought,” Joyner-Kersee said. And she laughed and laughed.
Day 14: U.S. women score soccer gold | Day 16: Dream achieved