Florence “Flo-Jo” Giffith Joyner shocked the world with her record-breaking speed during the July 1988 U.S. Olympic trials in Indiana. The 5-foot-7, 130-pound sprinter blazed through the track in just 10.49 seconds, beating Evelyn Ashford’s previous world record of 10.76 seconds in the 100-meter race. Time Magazine notes that the announcer during the race looked at Flo-Jo in awe after her speed-defying win, telling the crowd. “It cannot be…no one can run that fast.” But Flo Jo did.
“I looked and didn’t see anybody, so I just relaxed,” the then-28-year-old told the Los Angeles Times after the race. Born on December 21, 1959, Joyner was raised in sunny California. The track and field icon built her athletic prowess at a young age showing of her speed early. Joyner, who was one of 11 children, spent time in the Mojave Desert with her family chasing jackrabbits, ESPN noted. By the time she was seven, Joyner began competing in track and field competitions. The Olympic star continued to craft her skills while attending California State University in Northridge and at UCLA. In 1984, the high-speed power sprinter made her Olympic debut where she won a silver medal in the 200-meter distance, scoring the competition at 22.02 seconds.
Flo Jo’s rise to fame wasn’t always a breeze. Joyner experienced a financial hardship that impacted her ability to pursue running full-time in 1984. To make ends meet, the runner become a bank clerk and styled her friend’s hair and nails part-time, but with the grace of faith, she later secured a small sponsorship at UCLA. It was there that she trained under the wing of Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner Kersee and the same place where she would meet her beloved husband Al Joyner, Kersee’s brother.
“I met her at the U.S. Olympic trial… It was 6:45 pm. I remember that because I never saw a woman look like that before; she made me speechless,” Al Joyner told CNN in 2012. “Jackie was going through UCLA. Eventually, I came back out to train. I’m doing distance running. So we start running together and started being friends. She’s was not only beautiful, but she could run. I thought I could run off and leave her but I couldn’t shake her.”
In February 1989, Griffith-Joyner abruptly retired from athletics, however, she remained an icon through her bevy of endorsements, films, and designing. In 1998, the star died in her sleep as a result of an epileptic seizure.
Her legacy still lives on through her iconic world records and eclectic style. There’s no one who has done it quite like Flo Jo, and here are four reasons why.
1. Effortless StyleSource:Getty
During her hairstylists days, Flo Jo would charge her friends anywhere between $45 and $200 to do their hair and nails for occasions. The fashion-forward athlete’s artistic skills transferred over to her sports attire, often wearing brightly colored and eclectically designed apparel out on the field. The star often paired her look with long acrylic nails decked out with bold patterns.
“Flo-Jo’s style fused and updated traditional runners’ functional athletic apparel with jazzy fabrications, like lace, and refreshing silhouettes that emitted a sense of showmanship with her eclectic energy,” Darnell-Jamal Lisby, a fashion historian, and curator, told the HuffPost. “She designed many of her own uniforms, so they were personal to her.”
2. Flo Jo Never Failed A Drug TestSource:Getty
After Flo Jo’s history-making wins at both the 1988 Olympic Trials and the Seoul Games, the runner was accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, but she never failed a drug test throughout her career.
“She was being tested and I felt people were trying to get into her head, I had to keep her focused,” her husband Al Joyner shared of the difficult moment. “I told her: “Go out there and run like you on jet fuel.”
The International Olympic Committee’s medical commissioner Prince Alexandre de Mérode said that the organization performed a number of tests on Joyner, but still “We never found anything. There should not be the slightest suspicion,” he explained to CNN.
3. She Was A Humble Wife & MotherSource:Getty
In 1990, Flo Jo stepped down from her successful sprinting career to start a family with her husband Al Joyner, shortly after the pair got married in 1987. The couple had a daughter named Mary Joyner that year.
“Florence gave a lot of her love. I was the person that gave the love back,” he said. “She needed to know trust and faith and belief.”
“I trained her like a man. We did a lot of things then that they do now with nutrition. The things that separated her were her mental focus and toughness. She was humble. My wife was great then and she is great now.”
Flo-Jo loved raising Mary. She was at every soccer game and even chauffeuring Mary to gymnastics classes in their new hometown of Mission Viejo, Calif. However, Mary didn’t follow in her mother’s footsteps. At 21, the daughter of the athletic icon landed a spot on American’s Got Talent during Season 7 where she rose to fame with her powerhouse vocals. She was even invited to perform at the 2012 U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon.
4. She Was Muti-TalentedSource:Getty
Flo Jo wasn’t just an athlete. After she retired the gold medalist’s talents shined in other areas. She jumped into the world of acting where she appeared in shows like “The Nanny” and “Santabara.” She wrote children’s books and launched her own cosmetics and clothing line. In 1989, The Indian Pacers tapped the star to design their uniforms. Prior to finalizing the design, Flo Jo told reporters she had sketched out 13 ideas, keeping in mind not to jazz the players’ outfits up too much like her own.
“The first reaction of a lot of people is that it will be bizarre,” she explained. “They might be a little hesitant about it. But it won’t be something really outrageous. I wouldn’t design something like that for basketball players. No. 1, they wouldn’t wear it. No one-leggers or lace,” she laughed, NBA.com noted.