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Hamstring stops Joyner-Kersee

Published Sep. 16, 2005

At least she still has the long jump, which begins Thursday. This always has been Jackie Joyner-Kersee's favorite event, and _ if healthy _ she at least has that in front of her.

She wasn't healthy Saturday and so no longer has the heptathlon, from which she was forced to withdraw after one event with a damaged right hamstring. That ended her long reign in this grueling test, in which she owns the world record and two Olympic gold medals, and it was a moment filled with emotion for both her and coach-husband Bob Kersee.

She aggravated an old injury 17 days ago but insisted on training for the heptathlon. "I asked her numerous times if she wanted to pull out and just go with the long jump," Bob Kersee said. "She always said no, she wanted to represent the United States, people were expecting her to compete."

She competed Saturday in the heptathlon's first event, the 100-meter hurdles, but her hamstring twitched as she cleared the ninth hurdle and she landed gingerly on her right leg. As she began to warm up for her next test, the long jump, Kersee could see she was in pain.

"I'm going to pull you," he told her.

"No. Don't pull me. I'm going to try," she said just before heading back to continue her warmups.

"Frankly," he said, "something happened then for the first time in my career with Jackie. The husband was stronger than the coach and stood up and said, "No, no, no. That's enough.'

"My stomach was sick. My heart was palpitating. It was like I was in the Twilight Zone. I stood up, came across the fence, started walking across the track (which is prohibited). Even after I started walking, I thought, "That's Jackie Joyner-Kersee and here this fool is approaching her.' I didn't know who was going to tackle me.

"When I reached her, she saw a hurt in me she never had seen before. She never had seen me cry because of athletics, but I was crying then. She knew when she saw me that I was in all the way and she could go with me peacefully or kicking and screaming. She took the easy way out."

She was out, then, and together they disappeared into the bowels of Olympic Stadium, where they hugged each other tightly and cried.

First lady

of track and field

When Jackie Joyner-Kersee was born 34 years ago, her grandmother, Ollie Mae Johnson, knew right off she would be special. At the time, John F. Kennedy was president of the United States, so Johnson said, "We'll name her Jacqueline, after the President's wife, because someday, this little girl is going to be the first lady of something." Joyner-Kersee withdrew from the heptathlon competition because of a right hamstring injury. Though she hopes to compete in the long jump Thursday, the injury might mean the end of her career. Here are some highlights:

OLYMPIC STARDOM: 1992 _ gold medal in heptathlon; 1988 _ golds in the long jump and the heptathlon; 1984 _ silver in heptathlon and bronze in long jump.

WORLD RECORDS: She holds the long jump world record of 24 feet, 7 inches and the heptathlon world record of 7,291 points.

HEPTATHLON HIGHS: She has the six best scores of all time in the event, which includes a 200-meter sprint, 100-meter hurdles, high jump, long jump, shot put, javelin and 800-meter run.

HUSBAND/COACH: Bob Kersee on his wife: "Her performances are like a great opera or concert. I feel like I should be wearing a tux when I watch them."