The friendship of Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Heike Drechsler was forged in and by their own titanic struggles. "They are the Ali and Frazier of the women's long jump," says Bobby Kersee, who is coach and husband to one, and awestruck by both. "You know they'll force the best out of each other. And no matter who wins, you know it won't change their feelings for each other."
Both have won. Both have had to be lifted from the sand, injured and sobbing. Drechsler took the 1983 world title for a preunification East Germany when she was a gangly 18. Joyner-Kersee, her American rival, narrowly won the 1987 and '91 world championships and the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Joyner-Kersee holds the current world record in the heptathlon; Drechsler is a past world-record holder in the 200 meters.
Even before the Berlin Wall came down, Drechsler was friendly toward Joyner-Kersee, 30, though G.D.R. watchdogs didn't make it easy. Lately they've spent hours together on planes, talking about Drechsler's baby, now two years old, and Joyner-Kersee's plans to start a family. Their closeness has given their competition a growing complexity.
On her fourth try in Tokyo, Joyner-Kersee's spikes seemed to be seized by the plasticene beyond the board. Her right ankle twisted grotesquely, and she sprawled into the pit certain she had broken her leg, terrified that her career was over. Drechsler went to her, held her head and wordlessly brushed the tears and sand from her face until both women were reassured that the injury was more scary than serious. Drechsler needed to jump only an inch and a quarter farther to win. Yet her remaining tries were shadows of her earlier ones.
July 21, 1992
"I should have been tougher," she says now, but such toughness is surely beyond either of them, requiring as it does that one's heart not go out to one's friend.