“Greatest” this? “Best Ever” that? Determining such distinctions is often arbitrary, but who would argue that Jackie Joyner-Kersee is not one of the most accomplished female athletes of all time? She’s the winner of six Olympic medals, three of them gold. The Olympic record she set in the 1988 heptathlon still stands, and she joined Bill Littlefield from NPR’s New York bureau on this week’s Only A Game.
This week’s show marked the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which had been a part of the law for eight years by the time Joyner-Kersee entered college at UCLA.
“Once I earned my scholarship to UCLA, I learned about the impact Title IX had on my career from the standpoint of me being able to pick a school like UCLA to attend and also participate in sports,” Joyner-Kersee said. “In high school, my coaches were always talking about Title IX, but I didn’t really understand it.”
Though Joyner-Kersee is considered one of the preeminent female athletes of her or any time, she doesn’t really consider herself a pioneer. “I’m very grateful to be in the position I’m in, but there are women who came way before me that didn’t have the same opportunities that I had,” she said. “It’s important that I pay homage to those individuals.”
At the 1984 Olympics, Joyner-Kersee won her first medal in the heptathlon, the women’s marathon was included for the first time. Women’s basketball came to the Games in 1976, and women’s ice hockey arrived in 1998. This summer at the London Olympics, men and women will compete in every sport on the schedule for the first time. Title IX was a U.S. law, but could this be a sign of its global impact?
“It is a sign of worldwide effects,” Joyner-Kersee said. “It’s putting it on a level playing field that crosses all borders.”