Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Jackie Joyner-Kersee (1989)

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Themes: Sports and Entertainment | Education and Families |

Guests: Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Host : Trudy Gallant
Producer : Tony Mottley


Summary: Jackie Joyner-Kersee was one of the most successful women athletes of the 20th century, winning a total of five Olympic medals in track and field events spread over four consecutive Olympic Games. The peak of her Olympic career was in 1988, when she won gold medals in both the heptathlon and the long jump.


This program, from 1989, consists of an extended interview with Joyner-Kersee by host Trudy Gallant during a promotional visit Joyner-Kersee made to Detroit. Unlike most of the programs in the Detroit Black Journal series, this one was videotaped in advance of the broadcast.


Gallant asks Joyner-Kersee about how she sees her position as a role model, and whether she feels a particular responsibility to the black community in that regard. Joyner-Kersee says accepts being a role model, but encourages the children she meets to focus on her as a human being, not as an athlete.


"What I stand for as a human being means a lot more to me than the materialistic things that I have gained from track and field," she says. "I see that responsibility to all people, to all colors and, you know, I go into the black areas and I go into the white areas. It doesn't matter if it's black or white. I feel that all races need help and if I can go into one particular area and say something to one particular group, be it white or black, then I feel that I have met my purpose."


Joyner-Kersee talks about her relationship with her husband, Bob, who was also her coach, as well as her relationship with her brother, Al, and his wife, Florence Griffith-Joyner - both of whom were also Olympic gold medalists. And she sidesteps a controversial debate at the time ("I shut my ears to it.") about whether blacks have any inherent advantage when it comes to athletics.


But the most intriguing aspect of the interview is her discussion of her own training and preparation for competition. She discusses the physical patterns of training - practicing at 70-80 percent before the Olympic trials and 90 percent between the trials and the Olympic Games so she peaks at the right time - but she also describes the efforts to hone her mental state so she is psychologically prepared for competition. The psychological effort includes putting up notes around the house reminding herself that, "You have to hurt to be successful."


"It's easy to say and hard to do," she says. "You have to be mentally tough. All of us can go to the line with the same physical makeup but the one that has that 15-20 percent edge mentally is going to win."


The program offers a fascinating in-depth look at the personality of a world-class athlete, as well as the effort it takes to achieve on such a high level in the world of sport.