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Joyner-Kersee, Comaneci a perfect fit

Joyner-Kersee, Comaneci a perfect fit

Stars of track and gymnastics enlisted to promote the Aurora Games, an all-women Olympics-style competition coming to Albany in August
Joyner-Kersee, Comaneci a perfect fit
Nadia Comaneci, left, and Jackie-Joyner-Kersee were introduced as team captains for the Aurora Games.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

ALBANY -- Jackie Joyner-Kersee flew, and kept flying. When she eventually landed in the long jump pit, it was breath-taking.

Nadia Comaneci flew and flipped and flipped, and when she stuck her own form of landing, at the end of a gymnastics mat, your ankles ached just watching it.

They showed montages of both on the videoboard at the Times Union Center on Wednesday morning to introduce the faces of the inaugural Aurora Games to be held Aug. 20-25. Joyner-Kersee -- "Super Woman," as a Sports Illustrated cover described her in 1987 -- and Comaneci -- "She's Perfect," via Time in 1976 -- were on hand to promote the event, which is being billed as an "all-women sports and entertainment festival" loosely modeled after the Olympics.

That's by virtue of a schedule of multiple athletic events pitting Team Americas, captained by Joyner-Kersee, against Team World, captained by Comaneci. Athletes from 15 countries will compete in basketball, tennis, figure skating, gymnastics, ice hockey and beach volleyball.

While two of the greatest athletes in sports history, male or female, are well past the days when they stuck landings and polished off the competition, the Aurora Games is just beginning its approach.

Organizers have seven months of what executive producer and creator Jerry Solomon said would be intense preparation and athlete recruitment, but the ultimate goal is to give women an exclusive platform on which to showcase their athletic skill at a time when women's sports continues to shoulder its way into a crowded spotlight.

Asking Joyner-Kersee, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in track and field, and Comaneci, the first gymnast to score a perfect 10 in an Olympic event and a five-time gold medalist, was an inspired choice to boost the fortunes of the Aurora Games.

"Now is the time," Joyner-Kersee said. "When you look at '96, when they started embracing all the women's team sports, soccer and softball, at the Olympics, to now have this concept here, it's a proud day."

"Many, many years ago, there were only a few sports for women, because there was this idea that women can't do a lot of the sports that guys are doing," Comaneci said. "And they were just ... wrong."

Sports Illustrated named Joyner-Kersee the "Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century."

Besides a total of six medals spannning four Olympic Games, she was the first woman to earn more than 7,000 points in the heptathlon, a record that still stands 30 years later.

Comaneci, who first competed for Romania in the Olympics at the age of 14, had her own ground-breaking moments, like when she scored a perfect 10 that year, then six more, in Montreal.

Both are now involved in a variety of philanthropic endeavors, while remaining ambassadors for their respective sports. Through the Aurora Games, they'll take that to new levels by promoting the concept of inclusion and celebration of women in the full array of sports.

"I was in a fortunate situation that gymnastics was available, and probably a lot of people, after the success in Montreal, were probably very surprised to see a girl can do some stuff that maybe guys can't do," Comaneci said. "Maybe that helped to break the ice. Then many of the other sports became available. Women don't want to be limited in anything.

"I never thought that guys are better when I was growing up, that they can do something that I cannot do, because if somebody came to me and challenged me, I said, 'No, that's not true.'"

Team Americas and Team World will be competing for a trophy after Babe Didrikson Zaharias, the original Wonder Woman who competed in golf, basketball, baseball and track and field, winning two gold medals at the 1932 Olympics, then jumping into pro golf to win 10 LPGA Championships.

It's too early to predict whether the Aurora Games, for which tickets will go on sale March 8, will take off. Organizers got off on the right foot by enlisting these two greats, though. As much of a treat it was to watch the video tributes, Joyner-Kersee and Comaneci remain perfectionists.

They watch those highlights through a different prism than the rest of us.

"I felt the pain; it's so hard watching, I think because I don't watch it for the enjoyment," Joyner-Kersee said. "I'll say, 'Ooh, I could've done this better,' 'Oh, my head was down.'

"Nadia and I are not competing [in the Aurora Games], but we somewhat are, America against the world. So here we go again."

"It's hard to believe that's been 43 years ago," Comaneci said. "And I don't look the same. But she does.

"I remember I was so young that I didn't know what it meant to make history. After the competition, women came to me and said, 'Thank you for breaking the ice for women.' And I didn't know what that meant. I only did what I know. I didn't go there to make history, I just wanted to be the best."

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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