She was struggling, in sixth place, with the final jump of her Olympic career staring her in the face. So Jackie Joyner-Kersee looked down the long-jump runway and gave herself a little pep talk.
“I just said to myself, ‘This is it, Jackie. This is it. This is your last shot. Either you attack, or you don’t jump at all.”’
Her right hamstring wrapped in bandages, Joyner-Kersee ignored the sharp pain and sprinted down the runway as fast as her tired 34-year-old legs would take her. She leaped, her arms windmilling, and landed 22 feet, 11 inches later.
The crowd roared.
It wasn’t exactly what the First Lady of Track had in mind, but in a way, the bronze medal meant more than her three golds from 1988 and 1992.
“Tonight was really special because this one I really had to work for,” said Joyner-Kersee, who is contemplating playing professional basketball. “It tested me as far as my determination, my will. I was in a lot of pain, but I had to block it out.”
Asked whether she’ll look back on these Games as a disappointment, she said: “I wanted so badly to perform well here in the United States, at my last Olympics, but it didn’t work out that way. I’m sure the human side of me will look back and say, ‘What if this, what if that,’ but that will only bring tears. Tears aren’t going to change anything, so I just have to accept this medal and be proud that I never gave up.”
Joyner-Kersee received a huge ovation during the medal ceremony, and she stopped to sign autographs on her way out of the stadium.
Chioma Ajunwa of Nigeria, reinstated after a ban for steroid use, won the gold with a leap of 23 feet, 4 inches. World champion Fiona May of Italy took silver.
“Coming to Atlanta, it looked as if I would compete only in the 100 meters, but when my coach and I saw the whole long-jump situation, we decided to compete in the long jump, too,” Ajunwa said. “Coming from nowhere and to win the first Nigerian women’s gold medal in a technical event is very special. I’m now definitely finished with playing soccer.”
Pole vaulter Lawrence (Lo Jo) Johnson, the American record-holder, had a disappointing night. Hobbling on a tender ankle, he missed all three attempts at 19-1/4 and finished in eighth place. His American record is 19-7-1/2.
He crouched down on the mats after his final miss, buried his head in his hands and sat there for a few moments before getting up. Johnson was considered a medal contender, especially after world-record-holder Sergei Bubka pulled out with an Achilles tendon injury.
“My dream was to compete against Bubka for a gold medal here,” said Johnson, who taught himself to vault by watching Bubka videotapes in his living room. “I worked all year for this.”
Winner Jean Galfione of France won with an Olympic-record 19-5. Silver and bronze medalists Igor Trandenkov of Russia and Andrei Tivontchik of Germany also cleared 19-5, so the medals were awarded based on the least number of misses throughout the night.
As expected, Kenya dominated the 3,000 steeplechase. Nine of the top 10 steeplechasers this season are from Kenya.
Joseph Keter ran a personal-best 8:07.12 to win the gold medal. His teammate, world-record-holder Moses Kiptanui, won silver in 8:08.33. Alessandro Lambruschini of Italy took bronze.