Florence Griffith-Joyner - Flo-Jo

Florence Delorez Griffith-Joyner is the fastest woman of all time. She was also the most stylish female track athlete ever to compete.

Born on December 21, 1959 in Los Angeles, California, she was the seventh of eleven children that lived with their single mother in the Jordan Downs housing project in the Watts section of L.A. When she was five, her father dared her to chase jackrabbits while visiting him in Mojave and she eventually caught one, earning her the nickname “Jackrabbit”. By the time she was seven, she was running track. Florence attended Jordan High School in L.A. and competed in sprints and the long jump for the Bulldogs’ track team, anchoring the relay team that posted the nation’s fastest time of the year. She graduated in 1978 and enrolled at Cal-State Northridge in the fall to compete for track coach Bob Kersee, and she and two Cal-State teammates qualified for the three spots in the 100 meter event for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team but did not compete due to the U.S boycott of those games. Unable to afford college, she dropped out for two years and worked as a bank teller. Kersee became an assistant coach at UCLA and secured a scholarship for Joyner, so she enrolled there in 1980, where she was teammates with the great Jackie Joyner. As a junior, she won the NCAA 200 meter title and the 400 as a senior before graduating from UCLA in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Griffith finished fourth in the 200 meter final at the inaugural World Championship in Athletics in 1983 and the following year won a silver medal in that same distance at the Summer Games in Los Angeles. She ran 11.00 seconds to win the 100 meter IAAF Grand Prix Final in 1985 but stepped away from competition and married Al Joyner, brother of former UCLA teammate Jackie Joyner and winner of the gold medal in the triple jump at the 1984 Olympics. Her coach, Bob Kersee, had married Jackie one year earlier. She returned to international competition in 1987, finishing second in the 200 at that year’s World Championships and taking first as part of the 4 x 100 relay team. She stunned the world one year later in the 1988 Olympic Trials when she blazed the 100 meters in 10.49 to finish first in a race that was classified as “probably strongly wind-assisted, but recognized as a world record”. “Flo-Jo” entered the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul as the favorite in the sprint events. In the 100 meter final, she ran a wind-assisted 10.54 to beat her nearest competitor, teammate Evelyn Ashford, by 0.30 seconds. In the 200 meter semifinal, she set the world record of 21.56 and then broke it in the final with a new mark of 21.34. She added a gold in the 4 x 100 relay and silver in the 4 x 400 relay, capping off an Olympic performance that made her a household name and earned her the 1988 Sullivan Award as top amateur athlete [male or female] in the U.S. while also being named “Female Athlete of the Year” by The Associated Press and “Athlete of the Year” by Track & Field magazine.

“Flo-Jo” combined beauty, blazing speed and a flamboyant fashion sense to become one of the most iconic female track stars in history. She designed and wore one-legged spandex bodysuits along with six-inch-long, elaborately decorated fingernails. She was the first American woman to win four medals in one Olympics [1988] and her world records in the 100 and 200 meters, set in 1988, still stand today. After her retirement in 1989, she designed the uniforms of the NBAs’ Indiana Pacers and served as co-chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness in 1993. Mrs. Joyner gave birth to a daughter, Mary, in 1991 and died in her sleep as the result of an epileptic seizure in Mission Viejo, California in 1998. She was 38 years old.

“Flo-Jo” was inducted into the Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1995 and a statue of her sits in a park in Mission Viejo.