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OUR WOMAN IN MOSCOW JACKIE JOYNER WAS QUEEN OF THE GOODWILL GAMES WITH A STUNNING WORLD RECORD IN THE HEPTATHLON

July 21, 1986
July 21, 1986

Table of Contents
July 21, 1986

OUR WOMAN IN MOSCOW JACKIE JOYNER WAS QUEEN OF THE GOODWILL GAMES WITH A STUNNING WORLD RECORD IN THE HEPTATHLON

Jackie Joyner came ranging down the runway in Moscow's Lenin
Stadium with all deliberate speed. This was the first of her three
tries in the long jump, the fifth event of the Goodwill Games
heptathlon. ''A careful, safe jump,'' Joyner would say later. ''To
not foul, to get a 21-footer for a thousand points. Then, with that
in the bank, I could go all out on the last two.''
Joyner's coach and husband of six months, UCLA women's coach Bob
Kersee, watched, twitching, from the stands. He had known since
Joyner's first event the previous day, a scalding 12.85 100-meter
hurdles, that she was going to break the world record of 6,946
points held by East Germany's Sabine Paetz. ''She was in that zone
where you can do exactly what you choose,'' said Kersee.
Through the first day Joyner had high-jumped 6 ft. 2 in., put
the shot 48 ft. 5 1/4 in. and sprinted 200 meters in 23 seconds flat.
All were personal heptathlon bests. Kersee, however, had set slightly
higher goals for Joyner in the high jump and shot. This is one
demanding man.
''And one hardheaded woman,'' said Kersee. ''That first event kind
of . . . exalted her. After that, there was no way to put doubt in
her mind.'' Down the runway she went. Joyner is a born jumper, the
holder of the U.S. women's long-jump record of 23 ft. 9 in.. (Her
brother, Al, was the 1984 Olympic champion in the triple jump.) Here,
the flexibility and power in her hips were obvious even though her
run was not a full sprint. At the board she rose and kept rising. She
reached the pit still in perfect form. It was a jump fit for a
training film. But it wasn't 21 feet. Joyner had gone 23 feet even,
the farthest ever by anyone in a heptathlon, and it gave her a
staggering 1,176 points for the event. Kersee seemed overcome with
the chills. ''Now she'll not only be the first woman ever to reach
7,000 points, but 7,100,'' he said. ''I don't know what to say. Or
do.''
He ran up and down the stadium steps, burning raw emotion. Joyner
passed her remaining jumps to conserve energy. She moved on to the
javelin and with just one throw hit her sixth heptathlon PR of the
meet (by almost 16 feet), 163 ft. 7 in..
+ Her goal in the concluding 800 meters was 2:10. ''I thought
maybe we should have her drop it back to 2:15,'' said Kersee later.
''I thought that this would be such a world record that it would make
people expect too much of her for the next two years. But then I
remembered that we'd always said she could get 7,200. So I let her
go.''
Joyner strode home uncannily close to her target with 2:10.02,
worth 964 points. Kersee made his way onto the track and drizzled her
with cool water from a drinking bottle. He was trying to hide his
tears. Joyner's seven-event total of 7,148 had improved the world
record by a stunning 202 points. She had beaten East Germany's Sabila
Tile by more than 500. As far as is measurable, she had become
history's best all-around female athlete.
It was a record that couldn't have come at a better place. On this
track in the 1980 Olympics, the U.S.S.R.'s Nadeyzhda Tkachenko became
the first woman to go over 5,000 points in the pentathlon. The next
year the 200 meters and javelin were added to make the present
heptathlon.
Here, too, Ted Turner's new, made-for-TV games (see page 55) were
trying to define themselves, and performances like Joyner's were
giving them some semblance of shape. These games were replete with
honest friendship among athletes, but they were burdened with both
the questionable sportsmanship of administrators (in track, the
Soviets kept adding heats and reshuffling lineups to their best
advantage) and the need for constant artificial expressions of
international goodwill.
''What have you done to promote the goodwill of these games?'' one
Soviet journalist asked Joyner after her victory. The implication was
that winning wasn't enough, that perhaps she ought to issue an appeal
to her government to get serious at Geneva, which the Soviet press
would be only too glad to print.
''I felt the Olympic spirit out there,'' she said. ''And I hope
we'll see the Eastern bloc in the 1988 Olympics. Now wouldn't that be
showing goodwill?'' No more questions.
Joyner is the first woman outside the Eastern bloc in almost a
decade to hold the pentathlon or heptathlon world record. But last
week's events were in some cases redefining the athletic balance of
power. In others, the Goodwill competition only made clearer than
ever the strength of the communist countries; U.S. cyclists, winners
of nine medals at the L.A. Olympics, won but one in Moscow. A highly
regarded team of American wrestlers, led by three '84 ( Olympic
champions, was tied 5-5 by Bulgaria and as a result didn't even reach
the finals, which were won by the Soviets. The Americans might have
wrestled for gold, but world and Olympic 180.5-pound champ Mark
Schultz was decked by a bad stomach virus; he was disqualified for
passivity against Bulgaria and couldn't wrestle at all against
Turkey.
The U.S fared only slightly better in water polo, winning the
silver medal. The world champion Soviets stayed unbeaten through a
week of games played in cold, whipping rainstorms, then dominated
the U.S. 10-5 for the gold on Sunday night. The Soviet defense shut
out the Americans for an entire half and held off five U.S. power
plays. The player to score most effectively against the Soviets was
actually U.S. goalie Craig Wilson, who came to Moscow newly wed. Back
in early 1984, after a tournament in Budapest, Wilson had been
drinking vodka with the U.S.S.R. team when a Soviet player, Erikin
Shagayev, approached him with a gift, two phone numbers and a story
of a U.S. girl he had met at a 1983 tournament in Malibu, Calif.
''Please take this to her,'' Shagayev asked, handing Wilson a tiny
package that contained a ring. Wilson complied, but last week he was
back with some bad news for Shagayev, who unfortunately was absent.
''Remember that ring Erikin gave me?'' Wilson told the Soviet
players with a grin. ''I married her.''
The U.S. women's basketball team, out to end a quarter century of
Soviet dominance in that sport, felt as if it had spent much of the
week in a ring -- a boxing ring -- with its opponents from Bulgaria,
Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. ''Everybody's taken a few shots,''
said team chef de mission Lynn Norenberg. ''Katrina McClain got a
hematoma when someone kneed her in the thigh, and a couple other
girls got elbowed in the throat. But it's nothing we'd use as an
excuse.''
The Americans would need no excuses. They came out of the locker
room for Thursday's final against the Soviets whooping and
high-fiving and sprinted right into their weave drill. Together in
training for only three weeks, they had already shown exceptional
speed, defense and depth. Around them a surprisingly American crowd
-- seemingly the only full house in a week of sparsely attended
Goodwill events -- chanted ''U-S-A! U-S-A!'' Soviet fans whistled in
derision at this blatant show of nationalism, then promptly took up
an equivalent chant themselves.
The Soviets, unbeaten in major international tournament play since
1958, stood in silence at their end of the court, stretching
languidly. The gimpy metaphor for their fortunes was their 7 ft. 2
in., 34-year-old center, Iuliyana Semenova, who hobbled around as if
she'd just had surgery on both hips. Semenova had shot 10 for 10 from
the floor in the U.S.S.R.'s hard-fought win over Brazil, and American
coaches, in a play on her name, kept referring to the ''Ooolee
factor.'' ''They told me, 'You've got to keep that refrigerator off
the boards,' '' said U.S. center Anne Donovan.
The game was tight for just over 10 minutes, at which point the
Soviets led 21-19. Then the U.S. suddenly cut loose with three
straight baskets. Semenova missed a horrible lefthanded, flat-footed
hook shot and a moment later was convincingly stuffed by the 6 ft. 8
in. Donovan, who didn't even have to jump to do so. With a creak and
a groan, the era of the Soviets was ending.
Just that morning U.S. coach Kay Yow had installed a new offense
to create movement. It allowed the American guards to free-lance,
pulling the Soviets out and opening huge holes in the middle. It
worked to devastating effect. ''When I looked up at the scoreboard we
were suddenly up by 10 points -- wait, make that 12, 14, 16. . . .''
recalled forward Cheryl Miller later.
At the half the U.S. led 39-25. The American fans were so ecstatic
they led history's first known crowd wave in the U.S.S.R., which,
distressingly enough, drew cheers. By the middle of the second half
Soviet spectators were moving in a crowd wave out the nearest exits.
While Soviet players stood around like monuments to Lenin and
Pushkin, the U.S. cruised home with an 83-60 victory that wasn't
nearly that close. ''It was as if they gave up,'' said Donovan.
The Americans had outrebounded Semenova & Co. 44-20. Miller had
scored 18 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. McClain had added 17
points, and her former Georgia teammate, Teresa Edwards, had 13
points and 7 assists. While the U.S. had beaten Soviet teams twice
before in lesser competitions (in 1982 and '83), it had never done so
in what was clearly a world-championship caliber event. Players
hugged one another and draped themselves in American flags. They
talked eagerly of getting back to the States for some cheeseburgers
and pizza. Guard Cynthia Cooper, giddy in celebration, lifted her
nose regally. ''Home, James,'' she said.
The track competition, already elevated by Joyner, had continued
on a high plane. Edwin Moses made his way through a confusing
400-meter hurdle race run in two heats, clocking 47.94, and emerged
with his nine-year winning streak intact and extended to 96. In the
men's 100, there was more confusion. Only half the sprinters seemed
to understand that in Moscow, ''Vni-ma-nie'' means get set. That
caused one false start. Then Canada's Ben Johnson, who has been
smoldering for months about not being ranked first in the world after
beating Carl Lewis last summer, and who beat him again in San Jose in
May, jumped too early, saying his blocks had slipped.
''He was playing games,'' said Lewis, who was two lanes away.
''Talking, jumping the gun. It's important to him, I guess.''
Lewis might have guessed what was coming. Johnson, off a good
start, bulled ahead at 30 yards. All eyes shifted to Lewis, who
hadn't had a bad start himself. But he was third, behind Chida Imott
of Nigeria, and he stayed there. Johnson, who has worked hard on his
finish, won by a full yard in 9.95, the fastest time ever run at sea
level, and just .02 from Calvin Smith's world record, set at
altitude.
''I am the best in the world,'' rumbled Johnson.
So is the U.S.S.R.'s Sergei Bubka, who on Wednesday night sailed
four inches over the crossbar on a world-record pole vault of 19 ft.
8 1/2 in.. The jump raised his old mark by a quarter inch and was the
first of Bubka's six outdoor world records to be set in the Soviet
Union. ''I'm happy to do it in my motherland,'' he said, ''and all
compatriots should be happy with me.''
Had the bar been set higher, the vault would have made him
history's first 20-footer. But Bubka chose to vault no more. He
blamed the stampede of photographers that surrounded him after the
record vault, but they could have been corralled with a wave of his
hand. Later Bubka said, ''I dedicated this record to my son, Vitaly,
whose birthday is today. But, hey, it's only a little present for
him. He's just a year old.'' Bubka will wait, perhaps until August's
European Championships in Stuttgart, to show his prodigious best.
Late that same night, Doug Nordquist found himself the last
American track athlete in competition. Nordquist is a high jumper,
Dwight Stones's cousin, and a man of ebullient precision. On his
first try at 7 ft. 7 1/4 in. his back, butt, calves and heels all
cleared the bar by the same eighth of an inch, and he led
world-record holder Igor Paklin of the U.S.S.R. on fewer misses.
At 7 ft. 8 in. misses didn't matter because Nordquist made it and
Paklin did not. Soon Nordquist was playing the closing scene at
Lenin Stadium, standing on the victory platform watching as his flag
was raised, laughing, singing the national anthem -- unable to get
more than a few words out at a time -- and finally crying joyfully.
''Ever since '84 I've wanted to be on that stand,'' he said. ''It
was all the dreaming come true. Besides that, I tied the family
record.''
The Soviet press easily drew Nordquist into talk of his feelings
for these games. ''I was excited to hear about them,'' he said after
the medal ceremony. ''I was disappointed in '84 that the U.S.S.R.
pulled out of L.A. But it's different here. You can't compare. I
can't communicate except with a smile, but the people have been warm.
I had my first caviar. . . .''
''Can we say then,'' interrupted the questioner, ''that something
that is greater than sports competition has begun here?''
Nordquist seemed astonished. ''I don't know that you could ever
say anything was greater than athletic competition,'' he replied.
END

This is an article from the July 21, 1986 issue Original Layout

Photo(s):JOHN IACONO Joyner displayed her power with a javelin throw of 163 ft. 7 in., her PR by nearly 16 feet.TONY TOMSICJOHN IACONO Sights to behold in Moscow: St. Basil's Cathedral and Joyner long-jumping 23 feet.JOHN IACONO Gold medalist Nordquist upheld the family's high jumping honor and tied his cousin's mark.JOHN IACONO Bubka considered his 19 ft. 8 1/2 in. world record a little present to his year-old son, Vitaly.TONY TOMSICJOHN IACONO Johnson (467, and below) started fast and held on; Lewis (378) came in third.JOHN IACONOJOHN IACONO Donovan (above) froze the refrigerator, and Miller iced the win with 18 points.JOHN IACONOTONY TOMSIC The U.S. and U.S.S.R. water polo teams faced off at the start of the competition and in the final. The Soviets took the gold, 10-5, but American goalie Wilson (below) got the girl.