July 28, 1996 in Sports

Kersee Pulls The Plug Husband Insists Joyner-Kersee Withdraw From Heptathlon

Hal Bock Associated Press

There was a telltale hitch at the final hurdle, a bit of a grimace as Jackie Joyner-Kersee cleared it. Then the greatest female athlete of her time was out of the Olympic heptathlon.

In what could end up as her farewell appearance, the two-time defending Olympic champion was running through a downpour early Saturday morning, her right thigh heavily taped. She won her heat of the 100-meter hurdles, the first event of the heptathlon, in 13.24 seconds.

But she didn’t look comfortable running and seemed to miss a stride approaching the last hurdle.

The next event was the high jump. Joyner-Kersee and the others headed for that area of the track, but she was walking gingerly, favoring the hamstring she injured last month while long jumping at the U.S. trials.

Her coach and husband, Bob Kersee, knew she could not go on.

“I said, ‘Listen here. I’m going to pull you,”’ Kersee said later in an interview with NBC. “She said, ‘Bobby, no. Don’t pull me.’ Her husband stood up and said, ‘That’s enough. It’s time for me to pull you. I’m no longer going to allow you to do this. This isn’t a coach-and-athlete thing. This is your husband talking. It’s time for you to go.”’

The two sat in the infield, wiping away tears. Joyner-Kersee’s chief rival for the gold medal, Syria’s Ghada Shouaa, walked over and kissed both her cheeks.

Then she and her coach-husband headed off the track, through the maze of gates and out of the stadium.

It was not immediately clear whether Joyner-Kersee, 34, would compete in her other specialty, the long jump, which begins Thursday. Kersee said the athlete - not the coach-husband - would make the decision.

“In terms of the multi-events, she’s proven enough,” he said. “In 72 hours, she’s going to be pretty much ready to go out there with a wrap and long jump. The long jump is her baby.”

The women’s 400 heats were underway when announcer Bob Hersh informed the crowd: “Jackie Joyner-Kersee has withdrawn from the heptathlon because of an injury.”

“I was in the blocks when I heard it,” said American 400-meter runner Jearl Miles. “I was shocked and surprised. The Games won’t be the same without her.

“I don’t want to call her the grandmother of track and field, but for as long as I can remember I knew of Jackie Joyner-Kersee. She’s someone to look up to and I’m sorry she can’t compete here.”

“Don’t tell me that,” exclaimed Grace-Ann Dinkins, a 400 runner from Liberia, when she heard about Joyner-Kersee. “I think that’s horrible. She’s my hero.”

“It saddens me to know she’s not really healthy,” said Sharon Hanson, Joyner-Kersee’s heptathlon teammate. “It’s sad to see the best performer in the world out of the heptathlon, especially for the United States.”

Joyner-Kersee still holds the long jump world record of 24 feet, 7 inches, as well as the heptathlon world record of 7,291 points and the next five best heptathlon scores of all time. Coming into her fourth Olympics, she has won three gold medals, a silver and a bronze as well as four golds from world championships.

But Joyner-Kersee had promised this would be her last Olympics. The only reason she chose to compete was because the games were in the United States. Hampered by the hamstring injury even at the U.S. trials in June, she was beaten in the heptathlon by Kelly Blair - her first loss to an American in 13 years.

Throughout, she was driven by her coach. He was never more critical of her than during the trials, deriding her effort, especially in the javelin.

On Saturday, though, the husband in him led her away tenderly. There was nothing left to drive.

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