Florence Griffith Joyner, popularly known as ‘Flo-Jo’, was an extremely popular sprinter in the 1980s. She had an outgoing personality with a penchant for long, flashy nails and outrageous outfits. Her achievements on the track, specifically in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, etched her name into the record books forever.
A TOUGH START
Born in Los Angeles, she was one of 11 children and ran track in high school. She also ran at the university level and was considered a good prospect. Coached by Bob Kersee (who eventually married Jackie Joyner – her future husband Al’s sister), Griffith competed in the 1984 Olympics in her hometown and won the silver medal.
She had actually qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympics as a 21 year-old, which eventually didn’t materialise as USA boycotted it. Her participation in the 1984 Olympics came after much difficulty as a few years earlier she gave up the sport to take up a bank job. She did so as she couldn’t fund her further education and to support her family with a job of her own. Kersee helped her secure financial aid and she eventually got a degree in Psychology.
After the silver in 1984, Griffith stayed away from competitive running before returning with all the desire and determination that she could muster. She began training harder than ever and a new, muscular version of hers took to the track. She participated in 1987 World Championships in Rome where she won the silver in 200m and was part of the 4x100m US relay team that won gold.
Come 1988 and Flo-Jo came out of nowhere to break the 100m world record in the US Olympic trials with a time of 10.49 seconds, way over the previous best of 10.70. There was a lot of confusion over wind assistance over its legality. She even ran a wind legal 10.61s and came into the Olympics at Seoul as the overwhelming favourite. She blitzed through to gold medal-winning runs in 100m, 200m and 4x100m races in stunning fashion. As a last minute inductee into the 4x400m race, Flo-Jo won the silver too, which she herself termed as being more than gold as running 400m was never her forte. Her world record timings of 10.49s in 100m and 21.34s in 200m remain unbroken to this day.
DOPE ACCUSATIONS & A TRAGIC END
Her stunning transformation from a good athlete to a world beater stunned the world and there were many accusations of her being a dope cheat. She never failed a single drugs test in her career and credited her vast improvement to her training, gym work, changed running technique and total dedication to her sport. Flo-Jo announced her sudden retirement following more questions being raised on her highly-muscled appearance and husky voice in 1989. She did try her hand at a comeback in 1995 but it fizzled out eventually. Flo-Jo breathed her last in 1998 when she died of an epileptic seizure at just 38 years of age.
Whatever be the accusations and circumstances, Flo-Jo’s records has stood the test of time when others seem to be tumbling. Till someone does the unthinkable, Flo-Jo will continue to remain the fastest woman ever!