Track and field superstar Florence Delorez Griffith-Joyner, affectionately dubbed “Flo-Jo,” wowed fans not only with her formidable athletic ability but also with her flowing locks and stunning beauty. Setting still unbroken world records in the 100 and 200 meter dash in 1988, Griffith-Joyner’s legacy stands firm even 14 years after her unfortunate and sudden passing. NewsOne takes a look back at the life of Florence Griffith-Joyner.
Flo Jo was born in Los Angeles and raised in the tough Jordan Downs public housing complex, which is featured in the urban film classic “Menace II Society.” Running track at Jordan High, she would finish well behind her future U.S. teammates Pam Marshall and Alice Brown.
Flo Jo entered California State University at Northridge, where she joined the track team coached by Bob Kersee, husband to fellow track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee. After briefly dropping out of school to become a bank teller, so she could help her family, coach Kersee got her back on the team through financial aid.
When Coach Kersee landed the head track coach job at the University of California at Los Angeles, Griffith-Joyner transferred schools to be with her mentor. After missing the 1990 Summer Olympics due to an American boycott, she would win silver in 1984’s Summer Games but got more attention for her long fingernails than her accomplishments. In 1987, she married Olympic triple-jumper Al Joyner.
After a break, she returned to racing and shattered the world record in the 100 meters, vanquishing the time of former record holder Evelyn Ashford at the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials. Although skeptics tried to decry the win saying it was wind-assisted, there was no record of such weather activity on the day of the races. After three gold and two silver Olympic medals, Griffith-Joyner retired in 1988 to pursue other passions. She toyed with acting and even designed the NBA team Indiana Pacers’ outfits in 1989.
Watch Flo Jo win the 100m here:
Her dominance in the sport was questioned by rivals, who were perhaps jealous at her improved times and massive physique. Several tests returned proving that Griffith-Joyner did not dope up before races nor did she take performance-enhancing drugs during non-peak times. In fact, Flo Jo used her husband’s training methods to get stronger.
Tragedy struck, though, as Griffith-Joyner suffered an epileptic stroke on this day in 1998, dying in her sleep in the valley town of Mission Viejo. While many wrongly speculated past drug use attributed to her seizure and death, coroner reports showed that this was not the case.
Unfortunately, Flo Jo suffered and survived previous seizures in 1993 and 1994, with her latest episode proving to be fatal.
Watch Flo Jo’s daughter give her a tribute here:
Even though Women’s Track and Field has a bevy of new stars in Carmelita Jeter and Sonya Richards-Ross, Florence Griffith-Joyner is still the only athlete who can be declared as “the fastest woman” ever.
Rest In Peace, Flo Jo!