FloJo: A Name As Flamboyant And Flowing As Her Track Style

FloJo: A Name As Flamboyant And Flowing As Her Track Style

Florence Griffith Joyner was a three-time gold medalist at the 1988 Summer Olympics who revolutionized women’s sprinting with her searing speed and flamboyant fashion sense.

Decades after her shattering achievements in track and field, Griffith Joyner’s sprint records still stand, and many feel they will carry into the next century.

Known by the abbreviation ”FloJo” — even her name was fast — she set the world record for 100 meters at 10.49 seconds at the 1988 Olympic trials in Indianapolis, then established the mark of 21.34 seconds in winning the 200 meters at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea, where Griffith Joyner also won gold in the 100 meters and the 4×100-meter relay. She also took a silver medal in the 4×400-meter relay.

Not only did Griffith Joyner run considerably faster than any woman before her or since, she displayed a spectacular flashiness in the way she ran, dressing in one-legged spandex bodysuits and wearing six-inch-long, elaborately decorated fingernails. After retiring in 1989, she designed the uniforms of the Indiana Pacers of the National Basketball Association. And she also served as co-chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness.

”We were dazzled by her speed, humbled by her talent and captivated by her style,” President Clinton said yesterday, praising Griffith Joyner’s work with disadvantaged children.

Only now are Griffith Joyner’s records even being approached. Marion Jones of the United States ran the 100 in 10.65 seconds this month, and the 200 in 21.62. But even with her present dominance, Jones is still tenths of a second away from Griffith Joyner’s records in a sport in which personal bests are usually lowered by hundredths of a second at a time.

”I think she established herself in sport like Babe Ruth,” said Terry Crawford, who coached the American women’s track and field team at the 1988 Summer Games.

To some, however, Griffith Joyner has come more to symbolize Roger Maris than Babe Ruth, and her accomplishments carry both literal and figurative asterisks. Some have questioned the validity of her 100-meter record because of a possibly faulty wind gauge, and others have questioned whether the stunning times she ran were facilitated by performance-enhancing drugs, something she always denied. She never failed a drug test.

She set the world record in the 100 meters on July 16, 1988, on a day of swirling wind in Indianapolis. The mark of 10.49 seconds was astonishing; it broke Evelyn Ashford’s 1984 record by 27-hundredths of a second. In the era of electronic timing, the women’s 100-meter record had never been lowered by more than 13-hundredths of a second.

That the wind gauge on the track read 0.0, meaning there was no tail wind or head wind, struck many as illogical, considering that the wind gauge on the nearby triple jump runway showed a reading well above the allowable aiding wind of 4.47 miles an hour. The statistics manual used by track and field’s world governing body now includes an asterisk by Griffith Joyner’s time and the remarks, ”probably strongly wind assisted.”

Some in Europe have called for a review of the record, but Craig Masback, the chief executive officer of USA Track and Field, the sport’s national governing body, said the matter was closed. He called Griffith Joyner a ”ground breaker” who set standards of speed and flair ”that track and field is still trying to catch up to.” Crawford, the 1988 Olympic track coach, said: ”There was no wind; I was right there. The track was brand new. It was hot and humid, ideal conditions.”

Because of the significant lowering of her sprint times and her increased musculature in 1988, Griffith Joyner was subjected to rumors and accusations about the possible use of such performance-enhancing drugs as anabolic steroids and human growth hormone.

The most serious allegation was made in 1989 by Darrell Robinson, a former national 400-meter champion, who said that he had sold human growth hormone to Griffith Joyner in 1988. She vehemently denied the charge, calling Robinson a ”compulsive, crazy, lying lunatic.”

”I have never taken any drugs,” Griffith Joyner said at the time. ”I don’t believe in them. It’s a false accusation.”

Yet, it was one that continued to have Griffith Joyner’s achievements judged with some ambivalence by her rivals, including Ashford, the former world record-holder at 100 meters who finished second to Griffith Joyner in the 1988 Summer Olympics.

While praising Griffith Joyner’s speed and flair, Ashford said yesterday, ”I think, for Florence, the drug issue will always come up, whether she did it or not.”

Griffith Joyner attributed her improved times to weight training, distance running and increased determination after her 1987 marriage to Al Joyner, who had won the triple jump at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. She was not a one-year wonder, having won a silver medal at 200 meters at the 1984 Summer Games. ”I never had any doubt as to the credibility of her records,” Crawford said.

Delorez Florence Griffith was born Dec. 21, 1959, in the Watts section of Los Angeles, the seventh of 11 children. Her father was an electrical technician and her mother was a teacher.

Always a fashion maverick, she was once asked to leave a shopping mall for wearing her pet boa constrictor around her neck like a feather boa.

According to David Wallechinsky’s ”The Complete Book of the Summer Olympics,” Griffith Joyner began racing as a 7-year-old, but stopped temporarily in 1979, when she withdrew from California State-Northridge to help support her family. Working as a bank teller, she was later persuaded by Coach Bob Kersee to attend U.C.L.A., from which she received a degree in psychology in 1983 and emerging acclaim as a sprinter. Griffith Joyner went into semi retirement after winning an Olympic silver medal in 1984, working in a bank and as a beautician, but she lost weight and returned to serious training in 1987, preparing for her stunning performances a year later

  • Jere Longman, New York Times


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