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Joyner-Kersee conquers fears, foes After injury, heptathlon is mental strain, too


NEW ORLEANS -- Even legends struggle.

It was hot. The sun beat down on the metal bleachers. Spectators wrapped their heads in towels drenched with water.

This was no time to sprint. So Jackie Joyner-Kersee jogged. And then, she walked the final two steps across the finish line.

Joyner-Kersee won another women's heptathlon title at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials yesterday. On paper, it was easy. But out on the track, through two days, starting with the 100-meter hurdles Saturday and finishing six events later in the 800 yesterday, it was an ordeal.

"I have to say to myself that as long as I'm happy with what I'm doing, the pressure won't get to me," she said. "I know I can do better than this."

Joyner-Kersee finished with 6,695 points, her lowest total since 1985 and far off her world record of 7,291.

But in June, in her first heptathlon in 10 months, the numbers didn't matter, even as she breezed past second-place finisher Cindy Greiner (6,223) and third-place finisher Kymberly Carter (6,200). Joyner-Kersee's focus remains fixed on retaining her Olympic gold medal at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain.

"I'm not the world champion anymore," she said. "The heptathlon means a lot to me now."

There were other small dramas played out in the heat and the humidity that enveloped Tad Gormley Stadium.

Sandra Farmer-Patrick, running in an orange, blue and gold bikini top and bottom, with matching orange tutu, won the women's 400-meter hurdles in a meet record 53.62 seconds, and then watched her husband David Patrick finish second to Kevin Young in the men's 400 hurdles.

"I was happy, I broke down in tears," said Farmer-Patrick, who was eliminated in the 1988 trials after running out of her lane. "Once I won and David got in, it was a joyous time."

The Patricks became the first husband-wife American track Olympians since Olga and Harold Connolly in 1960.

"David and I will be roommates in Barcelona, or we'll protest," Farmer-Patrick said.

Charlie Simpkins won the men's triple jump with a wind-aided leap of 58-7 1/4 , but he didn't get the meet record. That was grabbed by second-place finisher Mike Conley with a legal jump of 58- 1/4 .

"I don't care about the record," Simpkins said. "I've been hurt, in hibernation, hurt again. Bad Achilles' tendons. I quit trying to jump for a while. A win is a win and a victory is a victory and I don't care how I got it."

Tom Pukstys, a Chicago native whose parents were born in Lithuania, won the men's javelin with a meet-record throw of 262 feet 5 inches. Good thing, too. Pukstys has a tattoo of a javelin thrower on his left shoulder.

"I learned the sport from my brother who was going to medical school in Lithuania," he said. "He came back with a javelin and I thought it was something I should try."

Joetta Clark won the women's 800 in 1:58.47. "This was a Father's Day present for my dad," she said. In the stands was her father Joe, a former high school principal whose story was told in the movie "Lean On Me."

But the athlete who dominated the day was Joyner-Kersee.

For her, the trials were an important first step back from injury. Last September at the world championships, she pulled a left hamstring in the 200, crumpling on the track, crying out in agony.

The leg has healed. But Joyner-Kersee admits her psyche has not.

Inexplicably, she waved her arms and nearly pulled up while running the 200 Saturday.

"I tried to put it in the past," she said. "I didn't see anything wrong, I didn't feel anything wrong. I suppose it has to be mental."

Her husband and coach, Bobby Kersee, agrees.

"Jackie is addicted to fear," he said.

Joyner-Kersee's fears showed in small ways. She plainly became unnerved with a high jump of 6- 3/4 . And in yesterday's long jump, she jammed a foot, fouled, and was stuck for a time with a best of 20-2 1/4 , an inch and a quarter behind DeDe Nathan.

"I told her to pass and forget it," Bobby Kersee said. But in a low voice, Jackie told her husband, "I do not lose in the long jump."

She didn't, winning with a jump of 22-10 3/4 .

"Bobby and I had exchanges in almost every event," she said. "Bobby had a comment about everything and he said I wasn't listening. And then, he asked me about the 800."

Oh, that race? Joyner-Kersee jogged from start to nearly the finish, finally walking the last steps to finish second to last in her eight-woman heat with a time of 2:32.57.

"Now, that was slow," she said.

No need to worry, though.

"When I have to, I'll push it," she said. "I'm waiting for Barcelona."

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