Even though she didn't win her final competition, Jackie Joyner-Kersee left track and field triumphantly Saturday night. Losing didn't matter.
Considered the world's greatest female athlete, Joyner-Kersee electrified the fans just with her presence. Of course, it would have been only fitting had she won.But after an exhausting week which included winning the Goodwill Games heptathlon, a dinner honoring her retirement and a series of public appearances to mark the end of a remarkable career, Joyner-Kersee was too tired to muster a final victory. She just went out with style and grace - and with a bundle of tears.
"I just wanted to walk away knowing I did my best," the emotional Joyner-Kersee said. "I've done this for so many years. I know I did my best.
"I really didn't want it to end, but I told myself, `Jackie, you can't run forever.' "
In the U.S. Open, billed as "Track and Field's Farewell to JJK," Joyner-Kersee could do no better than sixth in the long jump with a best of 20 feet, 113/4 inches, nearly four feet short of her all-time best.
Her series was one of the worst of her illustrious career: 19-93/4, 20-3, 19-93/4, 16-1 on a jump on which she fell on one knee, 20-91/4 and 20-113/4.
Still, she was the focus of the IAAF Grand Prix meet, and not even her poor performance could detract from her magnificent accomplishments throughout the years.
Spectators cheered her every move and photographers and cameramen swarmed all about her, tracking everything she did.
"I hate for it to be over, but I knew that it couldn't go on forever," Joyner-Kersee said. "It's pretty emotional for me."
Just as after her Goodwill triumph, Joyner-Kersee couldn't hold back tears. She didn't cry after the competition, but during the post-meet ceremonies honoring her.
"I've got to hold it in," she said when the long jump was over. She didn't hold back for long.
She was happy that she would not have to compete again.
"I'm glad," she said. "I have no regrets."
As for losing in her final competition, "It wasn't meant to be," Joyner-Kersee said.
The ceremonies included Gordon Bush, the major of East St. Louis, proclaiming Saturday as Jackie Joyner-Kersee Day and giving her a key to the city. She also received a plaque from Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, site of her final meet, and a painting of herself.
USA Track & Field retired a No. 7 uniform in her name, signifying the seven events of the heptathlon. The family of retired star Carl Lewis gave her a $5,000 check for her foundation plus a tennis racket, tennis balls and tennis outfit for use in her spare time.