On 21st December 1958, Florence Dolorez Griffith was born in Los Angeles... she would become known round the world under her married name of Griffith-Joyner and perhaps even better known as “Flo-Jo”. She is pictured with former Wimbledon champion Chris Evert, whose birthday is also today...
Her exploits in the women’s sprint events at the 1988 summer Olympics in Seoul were as extraordinary as they have become controversial.
In 1987, the year she married the 1984 Olympic triple jump champion Al Joyner, Florence had a 100m personal best of 10.96 seconds... there were over forty quicker recorded times in the event at that time. Yet at the trials in Olympic year, she crossed the line in a world record time of 10.49s – over a quarter of a second quicker than Evelyn Ashford’s previous mark.
Talk of an illegal following wind and a faulty gauge were rendered meaningless when Flo-Jo beamed her way across the line in Seoul in 10.54s –there was a similar dramatic improvement in the 200 metres when the nine year-old world record (jointly held by Marita Koch and Heike Drechsler) was demolished in the Olympic final.
Doubts persisted, but now they revolved around drugs; perhaps not overly surprising given the positive test given by her muscle-bound mentor Ben Johnson during the Seoul games. She attributed her toned physique and remarkable times on the track to weight-training, sheer hard work and determination.
The fact is that Griffith-Joyner never failed a drugs test... but it was still a shock when she retired from athletics in February 1989... on the eve of the introduction of random drug testing. Renowned for her long, brightly-painted finger nails and increasingly revealing outfits, Flo-Jo brought glamour and a touch of showbiz to the world of track and field, but in retirement she was never fully able to shake off the doubts that surrounded her performances in 1988...
Griffith-Joyner was only 38 when she passed away, in her sleep (on 21st September 1998); the official cause of death being a severe epileptic seizure. She was found to have a congenital brain disorder that meant such seizures were certainly possible... the autopsy found no trace of drugs or banned substances and her tissues and organs showed no change that would indicate steroid use...
That was still not enough proof for some and I suppose rumour may always cast some sort of shadow over Florence Griffith-Joyner’s legacy but for me, res ipsa loquitur as regards any drug (mis)use and the fact that both her 100m and 200m world records remain unbeaten some twenty-three years later marks out the woman they called “Flo-Jo”as a truly remarkable athlete....
All my own work... almost.