Courtesy of espn.go.comas told to Florence Kane, Vogue
In honor of the upcoming summer games, we caught up with eight former U.S. Olympic champions. In this series, they share their fondest memories of everything it took to win the gold.
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I wanted to be victorious at the 1988 Seoul games. I'd been so disappointed with my performance in Los Angeles in 1984, when I lost the heptathlon gold by five points to Glynis Nunn of Australia. My left hamstring was injured and heavily bandaged for all of my competitors to see. I let my mindset get the best of me. I went home with the silver. In 1988 I had tendonitis in my knee, but I didn't let on so as not to give anyone else a mental boost.
The starting event of the heptathlon's seven was the hurdles. All of the sudden, Sabine John, of then-East Germany, appeared on the warm-up field. I hadn't seen her at a competition since the 1986 Goodwill Games (where I came in first and took the world record from her) and thought she had retired. But I was glad she was there. She was considered one of the great heptathletes and I wanted to go up against the best. I was so excited, I stumbled at the seventh hurdle. But I got my balance and told myself to calm down and not get caught up in her presence. And I beat her in that first race, the hurdles.
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None of us did well in the high jump. Unfortunately, my bad left leg was my launch leg. And the shot put was painful on my knee. My 200-meter performance was just OK, but I was still 181 points ahead of Sabine. (You earn points for each event and the athlete with the most points wins.) The next day, I set a heptathlon world record in the long jump at 23' 10 ¼". My javelin throw was terrible. I finished fifth in the 800-meter race, but still managed to be first overall. I'd secured my first gold medal. I didn't go into the games trying to break records. I wanted that gold medal first, and then everything would come after. But I did set a new world record for the sport: 7,291 points.
In Seoul, steroid use allegations were constant. Once Canada's Ben Johnson went down-he failed his drug test and had his gold for the 100-meter dash revoked-everyone was suspect, especially those of us who'd had success. Anyone could say anything about anyone, and athletes were suspicious of each other. The night before the long jump competition, the Brazilian 800-meter runner Joaquim Cruz told a television reporter that I looked like a gorilla. He said that my sister-in-law Florence Griffith Joyner, a gold-medalist in the 100-meter and 200-meter races, and I "must be doing something that isn't normal to gain all those muscles." I was clean, and I couldn't believe I'd been dealt a racist epithet at the Olympics. I was not going to let the stupidity of one person steal my glory. I was even more motivated.
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After the heptathlon, I was fatigued and missing the board during the long jump, my best event and the one I really love. You're allowed six attempts and I wasn't sure my legs would hold up, but I was hoping I'd have at least one jump in me. When I landed in the pit on the fifth try, the roar of the crowd told me it was good (24' ¾", an Olympic record). Sounds are the making of athletes.
The London games mark the 24th anniversary of my winning two golds and setting the world record in the heptathlon. Someone is going to want it; records are made to be broken-it's only a matter of time. I hope mine will outlive me.
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