On this day in 1992, Jackie Joyner-Kersee becomes the first woman ever to win two consecutive Olympic gold medals in the heptathlon.
Born and raised in East St. Louis, Jackie Joyner overcame poverty and chronic asthma to win a scholarship to UCLA, where she starred on the basketball and track teams. (Jackie was not the only standout athlete in her family: Her brother Al was a six-time NCAA champion in track at Arkansas State University.) At her first Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984, the 22-year-old Joyner, running on a sore hamstring, missed the gold in the heptathlon by just five points: She scored a 6,385 to Australian Glynis Nunn’s 6,390. The Joyner family was not shut out of gold, however. Jackie’s brother Al, who would later marry sprinting sensation Florence Griffith, brought home top honors in the triple jump.
In 1986, Joyner married UCLA track coach Bob Kersee, who became her trainer. Two years later, after winning the 1987 world championships in the long jump and the heptathlon, Joyner-Kersee won gold in both events at the Seoul Olympics. Her 7,291 points set a new world record for the heptathlon and her jump of 24’3 ” was a new Olympic best.
Four years later, Joyner-Kersee entered the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona the heavy favorite to win heptathlon gold. Now a seasoned veteran of the circuit, she led the field for the entire event. On August 2, the second day of competition, Joyner-Kersee started the day with a long jump of 23’3 “, good for first place. Prior to her final jump, though, she was run into while sprinting next to her rival Sabine Braun of Germany. Braun had defeated an injured Joyner-Kersee at the 1991 world championships, and the bump was later deemed “psychological warfare” by Bob Kersee. It was no matter to his wife, though: She overcame a poor finish in the shot-put by finishing the 800 meters in a respectable 2:11, which gave her a total of 7,044 points and the gold medal. It was only the seventh time that a woman had scored 7,000 points in the heptathlon, and the sixth time Joyner-Kersee had broken the barrier.
At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Joyner-Kersee’s many fans were disappointed when a hamstring injury forced her to withdraw from the heptathlon. She was able to struggle through the long jump, however, and won the bronze. This was her sixth Olympic medal, the most ever won by an American woman in track and field.