Jackie Joyner-Kersee's great track and field career has come down to one meet, one event and - she hopes - one quiet celebration.
For all the adulation and accolades through the years, Joyner-Kersee does not seek attention. But on Saturday night her sport's spotlight falls on her one last time.The meet, the U.S. Open at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, is an International Amateur Athletic Federation event, but is billed as "Track and Field's Farewell to JJK."
Seating capacity has been increased from about 3,500 to 10,000 to accommodate those who want to see Joyner-Kersee's hometown finale.
Her resume includes six Olympic medals, including three golds. She also has four world titles, four Goodwill Games championships and 14 national events.
Most renowned for the heptathlon, Joyner-Kersee will be competing only in the long jump, the event in which she once held the world record and now is the American record-holder.
When the long jump is over and the meet completed, Joyner-Kersee probably will have difficulty holding back tears, just as she did Wednesday night at the Goodwill Games in Uniondale, N.Y., where she won her final heptathlon.
Her husband and coach, Bob Kersee, also cried after his wife's unexpected victory, her first heptathlon in two years, as she fought off rust, heat, fatigue and age.
"I'm going to miss track and field, the competition and the cheers," Joyner-Kersee said after wiping away tears.
"It's going to be tough for me, but whatever I can do to keep track and field going strong, I'm going to do it. It may not be on the track, but I'll be on the sidelines cheering and motivating people. I don't have to be on the track to help the sport."
Joyner-Kersee was overwhelmed by the wildly cheering crowd of more than 10,000 at the Mitchel Athletic Complex.
"It was incredible with everyone embracing me," she said. "They did my heart some good."
The final embrace comes Saturday night.
After the meet, nearby East St. Louis, where she was born 36 years ago, will honor her and her family and friends.
East St. Louis Mayor Gordon Bush will proclaim Jackie Joyner-Kersee Day and present her with the key to the city. The choir from Lincoln High, where she went to school, will perform. The track team from the school, which closed this year despite Joyner-Kersee's pleas, will join her on the field.
So will several family members, including her brother Al, the 1984 Olympic triple jump champion, and her sister-in-law, Florence Griffith Joyner, the triple gold medalist at the 1988 Olympics and world record-holder in the 100 and 200 meters. Local organizations will shower her with gifts.
Her biggest supporter through the years has been her husband, whom she married in 1986.
"The moments of victory have been great, but watching her go through adversity, watching her struggle through tough times and keep that smile on her face, staying friendly, thinking positively, remaining uplifting . . . we're not losing a great athlete from track and field, we're losing a great person," Kersee said. "But I'm glad it's over."
There will be other great athletes on the field Saturday night, including high hurdlers Allen Johnson, Mark Crear and Roger Kingdom, shot putter John Godina, intermediate hurdlers Bryan Bronson and Derrick Adkins, quarter-miler Butch Reynolds, sprinter Dennis Mitchell and women's distance runners Regina Jacobs and Suzy Hamilton. But none will compare to Joyner-Kersee.