EDWARDSVILLE – Jackie Joyner-Kersee has been hailed as the greatest female athlete of all-time, and her accomplishments at the Olympic Games are among the greatest of all-time.

The four-time gold medalist in both the Heptathlon and women’s long jump at four different Olympics was on hand at the Edwardsville Rotary Criterium Festival on Saturday afternoon and evening in downtown Edwardsville, where she served as the honorary starter for both the kids’ bike races and the Downtown Dash foot race, where she awarded the medals to the individual winners.

“Yes, I am honored to be here today,” Joyner-Kersee said in an interview before the start of the kids’ races, “and then to see young people do the Dash, have fun, but then also, the atmosphere is just great. A family atmosphere, so many people are out here, and it’s just really great what the Rotary is doing. And then also, for Edwardsville’s Wrestling Club, to sponsor the kids’ races. It couldn’t be any better.”

Joyner-Kersee knows how important it is to give back to the community, and feels events such as the Criterium plays an important role in the endeavor.

“You know what? Having events like this, and having booths, people in the community learn more and more about the different businesses,” Joyner-Kersee said, “what different people are doing, and coming together to support an event like this, because it takes sponsorships, and it takes people willing to, not just give of their resources, but their time. And then continue the seed to grow. And then to have kids involved, Plant a seed early, and then you can have them hooked for life.”

And with all of her achievements and her successes around the world, Joyner-Kersee still enjoys coming home to the area to help out in events and feels it’s very important.

“You know, it’s really great to come back home,” Joyner-Kersee said, “and I’m great to know Mark and Carol Mestemacher, to be friends with them, and what better way to give back to the community. And so, for me, I’m just having fun. I’m enjoying it too. Those young kids, coming up with projects they did for me, for the Black History program, and school projects, and it’s just really great.”

With all the excitement of what may very well be the greatest summer season in St. Louis sports history, starting with the St. Louis Blues’ Stanley Cup championship, the continuing contention of the St. Louis Cardinals in the baseball postseason race, St. Louis native Becky Sauerbrunn being a key member of the United States women’s national soccer team winning the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, and Tuesday’s impending announcement that St. Louis will be awarded an expansion franchise in Major League Soccer, Joyner-Kersee feels that the Criterium adds to this summer’s success of St. Louis sports.

“You know what? It’s just great,” an excited Joyner-Kersee said. “Sports is an equalizer. It brings people together from all walks of life. You don’t have to be an Olympic champion, just what you learn from doing sports. And then, to bring it here, and then, the impending announcement is just going to make it even better for the region. And that’s a great thing. We look at it from a regional point of view.”

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Dan Brannan also contributed to this story

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