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Limping Joyner-Kersee, 33, still has step on rest


SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Jackie Joyner-Kersee is either limping, wheezing or getting massaged.

She keeps an asthma inhaler tucked away in her tights, and a massage table near her training sites -- showing the signs of fatigue, injuries and age.

"It is challenging coping with the problems," said Joyner-Kersee, 33. "That's what I find interesting and exciting. To excel, that's why I keep doing it."

Even on one leg in rainy weather and gusting winds that topped 20 mph, Joyner-Kersee is still one of the world's greatest athletes. She nursed a sore left hamstring through two days to win the heptathlon with 6,375 points last night at the USA Mobil Track & Field Championships at Hughes Stadium despite the poor weather conditions. Kym Carter and Kelly Blair each had 6,354 points, but Carter took second on the basis of a 4-3 head-to-head event record.

Joyner-Kersee, competing in her fourth USA championship, had her worst first day in 10 years Wednesday, but still had a 20-point lead over Carter. And then she beat both the pain and Carter yesterday.

Joyner-Kersee long-jumped 22 feet 3 inches, threw the javelin 136-11 and painfully ran the 800 meters in 2:26.39 with some type of breathing device covering her mouth.

Dan O'Brien was leading in the decathlon with 7,367 points with two events left after rain delayed the pole vault for more than two hours. Chris Huffins was second with 7,191 points.

Joyner-Kersee's point total was off her world record of 7,291 points in the 1988 Olympics, but that wasn't important. Her goal was to place among the top three here, which would put her in the World Championships later this summer in Goteborg, Sweden.

"I asked my body to do something that it wasn't ready to do," said Joyner-Kersee, who has been hampered by nagging injuries all season. "Mentally, I just needed to get through it without injury. I have six weeks to get ready for the World Championships.

"This was a very embarrassing performance for me. I'm not washed up, I just need to put it together. Seven thousand points is not impossible for me this year. I have to focus more now than ever before."

Husband and trainer Bob Kersee said: "Like everyone else, I measure Jackie up to that world record. But to see how long she has held up, and what she has accomplished, well, it's kind of amazing."

Three Olympic gold medals, a silver and a bronze. She has won four world titles and set four world records. She still holds the top six marks all time in the heptathlon.

In a decade that has seen Michael, Magic and Larry retire, Magic and Michael unretire, and Mike Tyson go to jail and get released, she continues on, like the Energizer Bunny.

The performances haven't always been overwhelming, but that just shows the gap between Joyner-Kersee and the rest of the field. Her total yesterday (her worst in more than a decade) still was four points better than Carter's previous best.

And Joyner-Kersee still has that competitive edge. She wants to win a gold medal on American soil, something she failed to do by five points in the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

"That would be great, to win at home in front of friends and family," said the modest Joyner-Kersee. "It's a motivating factor."

In other developments, all the top contenders, Michael Johnson, Darnell Hall, Butch Reynolds, Derek Mills and Marlon Ramsey, advanced out of the preliminary heats of the 400. Johnson had the best time of 45.16. Hall was second at 45.23.

In the men's 100-meter preliminary, Carl Lewis advanced to the finals with a time of 10.12 in the semifinals. Lewis was second in his heat to Jon Drummond, who ran a 10.10. Mike Marsh had the fastest time in the semifinals with a 10.02, and Dennis Mitchell was second at 10.05.

Two other decathletes, 1992 Olympian Arik Long and 1990 NCAA champion Drew Fucci, were injured in the vault, which was completed in the rain.

During warmups for the restart, Long took a nasty fall, banging his collarbone and causing a further lengthy delay. Three hours later, after X-rays at a hospital proved negative, Long resumed competition and, on his first attempt, cleared 15-5.

Fucci, who was 22nd, slid down the pole and hurt his back.

Olympic gold medalist Gwen Torrence advanced in the 100-meter semifinals after aggravating a knee injury in an earlier heat. Torrence had a time of 11.25. Chryste Gaines had the fastest time in 11.02.

Another winner was Gina Procaccio, of Drexel Hill, Pa., who won the 5,000 meters in 15:26.34.

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