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Florence Griffith Joyner
Personal information
Full name: Florence Griffith Joyner
Nickname(s): Flo-Jo
Nationality:  United States
Distance(s): 100 meters, 200 meters
Date of birth: December 21, 1959(1959-12-21)
Place of birth: Los Angeles, California
Date of death: September 21, 1998 (aged 38)
Place of death: Mission Viejo, California
Height: 1.69 m (5 ft 6+12 in)
Weight: 59 kg (130 lb)
Medal record
Women's athletics
Olympic Games
Gold 1988 Seoul 100 m
Gold 1988 Seoul 200 m
Gold 1988 Seoul 4x100 m relay
Silver 1984 Los Angeles 200 m
Silver 1988 Seoul 4x400 m relay
World Championships
Gold 1987 Rome 4x100 m relay
Silver 1987 Rome 200 m

Florence Griffith-Joyner (born Florence Delorez Griffith[1]), also known as Flo-Jo (December 21, 1959 – September 21, 1998) was an American track and field athlete.

Griffith was born in Los Angeles and raised in the Jordan Downs public housing complex. During the late 1980s she became a popular figure in international track and field due to her record-setting performances and flashy personal style. However, her career was also dogged by allegations of drug use, which was speculated to have caused her premature death until the autopsy determined that it was due to a congenital defect. She holds the world records in the 100 meters and 200 meters races. She was the wife of triple jumper Al Joyner and the sister-in-law of heptathlete and long jumper Jackie Joyner-Kersee.


Track career

Griffith finished fourth in the 200 m at the inaugural World Championship in 1983. The following year she gained much more attention, though mostly because of her extremely long and colorful fingernails rather than her silver medal in the Los Angeles Olympics 200 m. In 1985, she won the final of the Grand Prix with 11.00 seconds. After these Olympics she spent less time running, and married the 1984 Olympic triple jump champion Al Joyner in 1987.

Returning at the 1987 World Championships, she finished again second in the 200 m. She stunned the world when — known as a 200 m runner — she ran a 100 m World Record of 10.49 in the quarter-finals of the US Olympic Trials. Several sources indicate that this time was very likely wind-assisted. Although at the time of the race the wind meter at the event measured 0.0, indicating no wind, observers noted evidence of significant wind, and wind speeds up to 7 meters/second were noted at other times during the event. Since 1997 the International Athletics Annual of the Association of Track and Field Statisticians has listed this performance as "probably strongly wind assisted, but recognised as a world record".[2] Griffith-Joyner's coach later stated that he believed the 10.49 run had been aided by wind[citation needed]. Outside this race, Griffith-Joyner's fastest time without wind assistance was 10.61 seconds, which would give her the world record anyway.

By now known to the world as "Flo-Jo", Griffith-Joyner was the big favorite for the titles in the sprint events at the 1988 Summer Olympics. In the 100 m final, she ran a wind-assisted 10.54, beating her nearest rival Evelyn Ashford by 0.3 seconds. In the 200 m quarter-final, she set a world record and then broke that record again winning the final by 0.4 seconds with a time of 21.34. She also ran in the 4 x 100 m and 4 x 400 m relay teams. She won a gold medal in the former event, and a silver in the latter, her first international 4 x 400 m relay. Her effort in the 100 m was ranked 98th in British TV Channel 4's 100 Greatest Sporting Moments in 2002. She was the 1988 recipient of the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States. Griffith-Joyner retired from competitive sports shortly afterwards.

Among the things she did away from the track was design the basketball uniforms for the Indiana Pacers in 1989.[3]

Flo Jo at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.


On September 21, 1998, Griffith-Joyner died in her sleep. On October 22, the sheriff-coroner's office (required to investigate unexpected deaths) announced the cause of death as: "1) positional asphyxia 2) epileptiform seizure 3) cavernous angioma, left orbital frontal cerebrum".[4] In layman's terms, this means she died by suffocating in her pillow during a severe epileptic seizure. She was 38 years old.

"Cavernous angioma" referred to a congenital (i.e., from birth) brain abnormality discovered during the autopsy that made Joyner subject to seizures.[5] According to a family attorney, she had suffered a grand mal seizure in 1990, and had also been treated for seizures in 1993 and 1994.


Aside from the controversy of whether her world record should have been held legal (in view of the anemometer issues), during her 1988 breakthrough year, Griffith-Joyner was dogged by rumors of drug use.

In 1988, Brazilian gold medalist in Los Angeles 1984 Joaquim Cruz suggested that her times could only have been the result of using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs, that her physique had changed dramatically in 1988 (showing marked gains in muscle mass and definition), and that her performance had improved dramatically over a short period of time[6]. Before the 1988 season, Griffith Joyner's best 100 meter time was 10.96 seconds. In 1988 she improved that by 0.47 seconds, a time that no one has approached since. Similarly, her pre-1988 best at 200 meters was 21.96. In 1988 she improved that by 0.62 seconds to 21.34, another time which has not been approached. Griffith-Joyner attributed the change in her physique to new health programs.[7]

Her retirement from competitive track and field after her 1988 Olympic triumph further fueled the controversy, with some suggesting that her retirement was linked to the start of mandatory random drug testing in 1989.[7][8] Her husband has stated that Griffith-Joyner was never interested in being a career sprinter, found the early nights and no-junk-food diet restrictive, and wanted to start a family as well as pursue interests in fashion design and crafts.[9]

Joyner's supporters claimed that the autopsy cleared her of allegations that she used performance-enhancing drugs. However, the coroner noted that the autopsy records showed only that she did not die from drugs or banned substances, the autopsy did not prove that Joyner had never used such drugs. Her husband had requested that Joyner's body specifically be tested for steroids, but was informed that there was not enough urine in her bladder and that the test could not accurately be performed on other biological samples.[10]

Cultural references

  • Griffith-Joyner is mentioned in the rap song "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-a-Lot. "You can have them bimbos, I keep my women like FloJo" and in the rap song "Number One Spot" by Ludacris "Stay on the track, hit the ground running like FloJo."
  • DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince pay homage to Joyner in the rap song Numero Uno "Fast like Flo Jo crazy like Cujo"
  • Hi-Tek makes reference to Griffith-Joyner in his collaboration with Talib Kweli, The Blast on the album Train of Thought. "It's Hi-Tek (body), on the track like Flo-Jo, bet you ain't know I had flow though."
  • Flo-Jo is mentioned in an episode of Family Guy. Peter is being stalked by Death and attempts to run away. Death responds by saying "I caught Flo Jo, you don't think I can catch you?"
  • Del the Funkee Homosapien mentions Griffith Joyner in his debut album I Wish My Brother George Was Here by rapping "might sound odd to the average Joe Schmoe, the new school passed ya like Flo Jo"
  • In an episode of "The Nanny," Fran Drescher's character confesses that she elaborated about her accomplishments in life in a letter to a pen-pal by claiming to be the fastest woman alive; it then segues into a fantasy scene where Fran is standing in the gold-medal position on an Olympic pedestal, and she turns to Flo-Jo and remarks, "Oh, cheer up, Flo. Silver goes with everything!"
  • Flo-Jo appeared on the Tom Bergeron version of Hollywood Squares. The first episode of her week actually aired on September 21, 1998, the day she died. Center square Whoopi Goldberg introduced the week's episodes with a prerecorded message stating that the episode was taped prior to Flo-Jo's death and that the entire week of episodes were dedicated in her memory.
  • British rock band Queen references Flo-Jo in their 1989 song "Rain Must Fall".
  • In the first episode of Gilmore Girls Lorelai says to Rory "You'd have to be Flo-Jo to get away from me"
  • In the first episode of Veronica Mars Wallace says to Veronica "Hey, FloJo, slow your ass down."
  • In Season 3 Episode 13 of Everybody Hates Chris FloJo is mentioned when young Chris is trying to chase a girl and narrator Chris says "there was catch a girl kiss a girl... she ran faster than FloJo."
  • In season 2 episode 13 of Saved by the bell Lisa Turtle attempts to rally fellow classmates saying "Thanks everyone. We're going to win tomorrow, and if my race is close I have a little trick i borrowed from Flo Jo to reach the tape quicker."


External links

Preceded by
United States Evelyn Ashford
Women's 100 m World Record Holder
July 16, 1988 —
Succeeded by
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
West Germany Steffi Graf
United Press International
Athlete of the Year

Succeeded by
West Germany Steffi Graf
Preceded by
United States Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Women's Track & Field Athlete of the Year
Succeeded by
Cuba Ana Fidelia Quirot
Sporting positions
Preceded by
East Germany Silke Möller
Women's 200 m Best Year Performance
Succeeded by
United States Dawn Sowell

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