Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

Jackie Joyner-Kersee

We talk to the track and field star about training as a child and racing her brother.

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CARL KASELL: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR news quiz. I'm Carl Kasell. And here again is your host at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.

(APPLAUSE)

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

Thank you, Carl. Thanks everybody.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Athletes talk about the endorphin rush that tough physical exertion gets you, a kind of naturally induced high. We tried to see if we could get the same effect by just, you know, talking to athletes.

KASELL: We brought along our inhalers just in case.

SAGAL: In June, we went down to St. Louis, where Jackie Joyner-Kersee grew up, just across the river in East St. Louis. She went on to be the greatest American female track and field athlete ever.

MICHELE TAFOYA: Jackie joined Mo Rocca, Kyrie O'Connor and Brian Babylon on stage, along with guest judge and scorekeeper Bill Curtis. Peter began by asking her if she had always been athletic.

JACKIE JOYNER-KERSEE: Yes, I was always into athletics, but I really wasn't really good in track when - because I started running at the age of nine, and my first I finished last.

SAGAL: Really? So you weren't one of those kids who were like immediately, everybody knew you had a special talent? You had to really work for it.

JOYNER-KERSEE: Well, my coaches might have known. But when you finish in eighth place and seven place, that ain't special, you know.

SAGAL: No.

(LAUGHTER)

BRIAN BABYLON: I wonder where that kid is who won first place in that race. What did person...

SAGAL: We read that you actually made your own sand pit to jump in, to do long jump.

JOYNER-KERSEE: Yes.

SAGAL: And that you, like, had to collect sand from all around East St. Louis to make it. Is that true?

JOYNER-KERSEE: Well, not quite around East St. Louis. It was a park across the street from where I lived, and they had a sandbox. And so I would convince my sisters. We would take potato chip bags, and we would walk over to the park...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And we would fill the bags with the sand and bring it back to our front yard so I could practice on my jumping.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: I mean, did any of your siblings say, why don't you just go jump over there, and we'll save a lot of time?

(LAUGHTER)

JOYNER-KERSEE: See, we weren't supposed to leave the yard, so...

SAGAL: Oh.

JOYNER-KERSEE: So we would go to the park. And we never collected enough sand for me to jump in the pit. But, you know, I was jumping off - we had a porch and a banister. So I would practice my jumping, and my mom didn't know because it was just a little bitty mound of sand.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I love the story of you guys smuggling the dirt. It's like "The Great Escape," these little kids, they're like sneaking over there holding a potato chip bag trying to look nonchalant.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So once you started winning, you know, when did you get on the path to the Olympics?

JOYNER-KERSEE: When I was 14, I saw the '76 Olympic games on television, and I remember going to my coaches, and I asked them did they think that I could make the Olympics because that's my dream. I want to go to the Olympics because I saw women at that time doing what I was trying to do. And I was like, wow, and maybe I can get on TV by going to the Olympics.

(LAUGHTER)

JOYNER-KERSEE: So that's what I did.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I watched the '76 Olympics. I just said that makes me tired and got some more ice cream, but that's...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: But now, I mean, you went to four Olympics. I can't even count your medals.

JOYNER-KERSEE: Three gold.

SAGAL: Three gold.

JOYNER-KERSEE: A silver and two bronze.

SAGAL: Really?

(APPLAUSE)

JOYNER-KERSEE: Thank you.

SAGAL: And a world record that still stands in the heptathlon, right?

JOYNER-KERSEE: Yes.

SAGAL: OK. So where do you keep the medals in your house?

JOYNER-KERSEE: Well, they're in a safe place.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: If I were to come over to your house, and I'm not angling for an invitation, but if I were to come over to your house, would I see them? Are they out?

JOYNER-KERSEE: Well, no, they're not out, but...

SAGAL: No, really?

BABYLON: Oh, mine would be everywhere.

SAGAL: I was about to say.

(LAUGHTER)

BABYLON: Yeah.

SAGAL: If I had one Olympic medal, I would be wearing it now.

BABYLON: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I would be going, oh, this enormous medallion around my neck? Well, that's my Olympic medal.

MO ROCCA: Yes, with a bowl of Wheaties right in front of you.

SAGAL: Exactly.

JOYNER-KERSEE: Yes.

SAGAL: Really? But you don't ever take them out and just go oh, yeah?

JOYNER-KERSEE: You know, you could. But, you know, when you get the gold medals or the silver medals or the bronze medal, it's like, oh, that hard work, oh, them 12 hours, oh, 365 days of the year. Let me put that away.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Your brother Al is an Olympic gold medal winner. Did you ever - did you get competitive with him? Did you ever race him?

JOYNER-KERSEE: I did.

SAGAL: Did you smoke him?

JOYNER-KERSEE: I did.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Did you?

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: If your brother were here right now, would he confirm this story, or...?

JOYNER-KERSEE: Oh, yes, he would confirm it.

SAGAL: He'd confirm the story? OK, I just wanted to say he wouldn't lie...

JOYNER-KERSEE: But he would also say that he beat me to winning the first Olympic gold medal, though.

SAGAL: That's true.

JOYNER-KERSEE: So....

ROCCA: I'm curious. Like if you're ever on the way to a meeting, and you're in a traffic jam...

(LAUGHTER)

ROCCA: I mean, do you ever just get out of the car and just sprint right there?

JOYNER-KERSEE: You know what, you have those thoughts, but a lot of time you're going to the meetings, you've got on heels. But, you know, some people run in heels, but...

ROCCA: Could you do that? Could you sprint in heels?

JOYNER-KERSEE: No, I can barely walk in them. So I know I'm not going to sprint.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: This is what I want to happen. That's your dream, Mo. My dream is that Jackie is walking down the street, and some guy grabs her purse and runs.

ROCCA: Yes.

JOYNER-KERSEE: Oh.

ROCCA: Exactly. I was - iPhone thing. Like when you down the street, because they're all - there's a rash of iPhone thievery where people will snatch it out of your hands. And so, you know, people are really protective. But you can just wave it all around. You don't have to worry about anything.

(LAUGHTER)

BABYLON: Can you still throw a javelin?

JOYNER-KERSEE: Yeah, yeah, I can.

ROCCA: Is there ever reason to?

(LAUGHTER)

BABYLON: Yeah, if someone steals your iPhone.

JOYNER-KERSEE: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

JOYNER-KERSEE: Because, you know, I've got the fold-up javelin in my bag.

ROCCA: That's cool.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Dangerous woman. Well, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, we are so delighted to talk to you, and we have invited you here today to play a game we're calling...

BILL KURTIS: May thunder blast your head.

SAGAL: So your name of course is Kersee, but how cursy are you? We're going to ask you three questions about curses from around the world.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: We learned about these on the website Asylum.com. Get two right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl Kasell's voice on their voicemail. Bill, who is Jackie Joyner-Kersee playing for?

KURTIS: Cynthia Cryder of St. Louis, Missouri.

SAGAL: OK, your hometown person.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: OK, Jackie, here's your first question. In Turkey, they insult rich, entitled people by saying which of these: A, you are a child of pudding; B, may your domestic help regularly look at you in the eye in an insolent way; or C, you donate to public radio?

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

JOYNER-KERSEE: OK, so that's none of the above, right?

SAGAL: No, it's one of the three. I'll review. It's...

JOYNER-KERSEE: I'll go A, pudding.

SAGAL: You're going to go A, you are a child of pudding. You're right, very good.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Not being Turkish, we have no idea why they say that. Next question, next question, this is very good. In Portugal, you might insult a guy by telling him to do what: A, go eat at White Castle.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B, go comb a monkey; or C, go try to reform the international banking system.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Those are insults, ways to send them away in an insulting way.

JOYNER-KERSEE: Portugal?

SAGAL: Portugal.

JOYNER-KERSEE: OK, B.

SAGAL: Go comb a monkey. You're right, very good.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Jackie, one more question. Let's go for the gold, as it were. In Iceland, if you get really angry at somebody you can call them a Prumphasen, a Prumphasen, which means you're calling them what: A, a Bjork tribute act.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B, a fart-chicken.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Or C, a dish of overcooked horse meat.

ROCCA: Oh, my God.

JOYNER-KERSEE: In Iceland?

SAGAL: Iceland.

ROCCA: A fart chicken?

SAGAL: A fart chicken.

(LAUGHTER)

JOYNER-KERSEE: Can we go with the fart chicken?

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You want to go with the fart chicken? Yes, it's the fart chicken.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Bill, how did Jackie Joyner-Kersee do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Another gold medal for her room.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Jackie Joyner-Kersee is a track and field legend and the founder of the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation and Center in East St. Louis, Illinois. Her new youth athletics program is Winning for Life. Jackie Joyner-Kersee, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

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