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Joyner-Kersee Is Ready for Finale

July 25, 1998

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (AP) _ It’s time for Jackie Joyner-Kersee to say goodbye to track and field.

Tonight, the sport’s first lady, who was named after Jacqueline Kennedy because her paternal grandmother said she ``wanted me to be the first lady of something,″ competes in her final meet.

It’s called ``The U.S. Open: Track and Field’s Farewell to JJK,″ and Joyner-Kersee is leaving with regrets.

``I will miss it,″ she said.

The sport will miss her, too.

``She’s meant a great deal to the sport,″ shot putter C.J. Hunter said. ``She’s helped bring the sport into the black community. She’s been a great example for males and females.″

``I would like to see her go one more year just to see her gut it out again,″ sprinter Brian Lewis said, referring to Joyner-Kersee’s physically and emotionally draining victory in the heptathlon at the Goodwill Games Wednesday night, an event she wasn’t certain she would finish because of her lack of fitness.

``As long as she’s doing well, she should keep doing it until you can’t do it anymore.″

Despite Lewis’ desire, Joyner-Kersee, 36, will end her career tonight in the long jump, her favorite event and the one she began practicing by jumping off the front porch of her house in financially troubled East St. Louis, about 15 miles from Edwardsville.

``She’s retired,″ Bob Kersee, her husband and coach, said. ``She’s not coming back.″

For emphasis, he repeated the last statement three times.

Although she won’t be competing again, the three-time Olympic gold medalist, four-time world champion and heptathlon world record-holder, isn’t going far from the sport.

She’s the co-promoter of tonight’s IAAF Grand Prix meet, along with USA Track & Field. Her company, Elite International Sports Marketing, stepped in when USATF and organizers in Durham, N.C., the original site, couldn’t agree on financial arrangements.

She has been assisting, coaching and inspiring youngsters in East St. Louis, where she is building the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Sports Foundation. And she wants to assist heptathletes, plus sprinter-long jumper Marion Jones, who considers Joyner-Kersee her idol.

Before leaving, Joyner-Kersee badly wants to win her final competition. She’ll be facing a strong international field that includes 1997 world champion Lyudmila Galkina of Russia, the 2-3-4-5 finishers in the USA Championships _ Shana Williams, Dawn Burrell, Yuan Hunt and Sharon Couch-Jewell, respectively _ Jackie Edwards of the Bahamas and Lacena Golding of Jamaica.

``The old lady isn’t going to make it easy for them,″ Kersee said.

``It’s going to be tough for her. It will be an emotional moment. It’s been a long, emotional week.

``It was tough for her the other night to accept that it was her last heptathlon. She’s a little emotional, a little testy. I have a tired, ornery and nervous wife. Last night (Thursday, at a reception in New York honoring Joyner-Kersee), she started to break down. She’s realizing this is it. Tomorrow (Saturday) is going to be showtime.″

It’s also going to be celebration time.

At the start of the competition, she will be introduced to the crowd at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville’s Ralph Korte Stadium and give them the ``royal wave.″ After her event, Joyner-Kersee will take a lap of honor around the track.

When the meet ends, Gordon Bush, the mayor of East St. Louis, will proclaim Jackie Joyner-Kersee Day and present her with a key to the city.

The choir from Lincoln High, where she went to school, will sing ``When I Think of Home″ from The Wiz and ``Did You Ever Know You’re My Hero?″

A film highlighting Joyner-Kersee’s career will be shown, several local organizations will shower her with gifts, and the Athletes Advisory Committee of USA Track & Field plans a special presentation.

After the ceremonies, Joyner-Kersee, considered sport’s greatest female athlete, will fade out of the competitive spotlight but will not be forgotten.

``The greatest female athlete title is fitting for her,″ said former hurdler Greg Foster. ``She’s certainly withstood the test of time.″

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