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JJK leaves track competition, legacy

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill., July 25 -- Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee said farewell to track and field competition during a meet held in her honor Saturday near her hometown. She competed a final time at the U.S. Open: Track and Field's Farewell to JJK event at the Edwardsville campus of Southern Illinois University, about 20 miles from where the 36-year-old was born and raised. After ceremonies honoring her, Joyner-Kersee took a lap around the track with the girl's track team from her alma mater, East St. Louis Lincoln High School. East St. Louis Mayor Gordon Bush presented her with a large plaque and a key to the impoverished Illinois city. Joyner-Kersee told 9,100 fans, 'It doesn't matter where you come from as long as you believe in yourself.' The event marked only the second time she had competed in the St. Louis area. She set a record in the 100-meter hurdles in the 1994 Olympic festival held at the university. Among the people who honored JJK after the competition were her former high school coach Nino Fennoy, her brother Al Joyner and her coach and husband Bob Kersee. Joyner-Kersee told the cheering crowd: 'I'd like to say to everybody tonight...Always follow your dream. The impossible is possible.' A total of 144 athletes, with 44 Olympic medals among them, took part in the meet, which featured $500,000 in prize money. Joyner-Kersee competed only in the long jump, finishing sixth among eight entrants. Joyner-Kersee is known as the most decorated female Olympian in the United States.

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Joyner-Kersee captured Olympic gold medals in 1988, and 1992. She won silver in 1984, and bronze medals in 1992 and 1996. She won her fourth straight heptathlon championship at the Goodwill Games three days ago. Many area fans turned out to honor their hometown heroine, who once said she grew up so poor that she had to wear the same pair of shoes every day for three years.

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