Joyner-Kersee attended the University of Califonia, Los Angeles on a full scholarship, and continued to gain fame on both the court and field. However, in 1981, at the age of 19, she began to focus on training for the Olympics, specifically for the heptathlon—an Olympic track-and-field event comprised of seven separate events, including the 200-meter run, 800-meter run and 100-meter hurdles. She graduated from UCLA in 1985.
Regarded as one of the greatest female athletes in history, Joyner-Kersee won a silver medal in the heptathlon at the 1984 Summer Olympics, as well as gold and bronze medals in the long jump in 1988 and 1992, respectively. She is currently the heptathlon world record-holder, scoring 7,291 points—she's set a record in the heptathlon four times—at the Summer Olympics in 1988, and taking home a gold medal. Joyner-Kersee is also a former long jump word record holder; she tied world long-jump record in 1987, with a 7.45-meter jump (her record was broken in 1988 by Galina Chistyakova, who jumped 7.52 meters). Joyner-Kersee is currently the American record-holder in the long jump.
Joyner-Kersee's last Olympic run came in 1996, when she took home a bronze medal in the long jump at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. She did not compete in the heptathlon that year due to a pulled hamstring.
In 1986, Joyner-Kersee married her coach, Bob Kersee. He also trained Joyner-Kersee's sister-in-law, the late track star Florence Joyner. Bob came under media speculation in 1988, when Florence Joyner improved her times in the 100-meter run, 200-meter run and 4-by-100 meter relay—and took gold medals in all three events—at the 1988 Olympics. Many people questioned Bob's training techniques and suggested that he could have been encouraging his runners to use performance-enhancing drugs. In the late 1990s, Bob became a volunteer member of UCLA's track and field coaching staff—a position he has held for more than a decade.
A sufferer of exercise-induced asthma, Joyner-Kersee officially retired from track and field in 2001 at age 38. Following her retirement, she founded the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation, which is aimed at encouraging youth in her underprivileged hometown to play sports. Additionally, in 2007, Joyner-Kersee helped establish Athletes for Hope along with such sports heroes as Andre Agassi, Muhammad Ali and Mia Hamm. This organization supports and encourages athletes "to make a difference in the world," according to its website.
Joyner-Kersee joined the board of the USA Track & Field organization in 2012.