Florence Delorez Griffith Joyner[1] (December 21, 1959 – September 21, 1998), also known as Flo-Jo, was an American track and field athlete. She is considered the “fastest woman of all time”[2][3][4] based on the fact that the world records she set in 1988 for both the 100 metres and 200 metres still stand and have yet to be seriously challenged. She died in her sleep as the result of an epileptic seizure in 1998 at the age of 38. She attended University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).


1 Education and career
2 Controversy
3 Death
4 Olympic Games and trials results
5 References
6 External links

Education and career

Griffith was born in Los Angeles, California, and she was raised in the Jordan Downs public housing complex. During the late 1980s she became a popular figure in international track and field because of her record-setting performances and flashy personal style. She was the wife of the triple jumper Al Joyner and the sister-in-law of the heptathlete and long jumper Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Griffith ran track at Jordan High School in Los Angeles. As a senior in 1978, she finished 6th at the CIF California State Meet behind future teammates Alice Brown and Pam Marshall.[5] Griffith attended the California State University at Northridge, and she was on the track team coached by Joyner-Kersee’s future husband, Bob Kersee. This team also included her teammates Brown and Jeanette Bolden. However, Griffith had to drop out in order to support her family, and then she took a job as a bank teller. Kersee was then able to find financial aid for Griffith and she returned to college.[6] Brown, Bolden, and Griffith qualified for the 100-meter final at the trials for the 1980 Summer Olympics (Brown winning, Griffith last in the final). Griffith also ran the 200 meters, narrowly finishing in 4th, a foot out of a qualifying position. But the U.S. Government had already decided to boycott those Olympic Games mooting those results.[7] After the season Kersee became the head coach of the track team at the University of California at Los Angeles, which prompted Griffith to also transfer there, since she was academically eligible to do so. In 1982, Griffith graduated from UCLA with her bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Griffith finished fourth in the 200-meter sprint at the first World Championship in Athletics in 1983. The following year she gained much more attention, though mostly because of her extremely long and colourful fingernails, rather than the silver medal that she won in the 1984 Summer Olympics. In 1985, she won the 100-metre IAAF Grand Prix Final with the time of 11.00 seconds. After the 1984 Olympic Games, she spent less time running, and she married the Olympic triple jump champion of 1984, Al Joyner, in 1987.

Upon returning at the 1987 World Championships, Griffith Joyner finished second again in the 200-metre sprint.

In 1988, with no outstanding early season marks to indicate fitness, in the first race of the quarterfinals of the U.S. Olympic Trials, she stunned her colleagues when she sprinted 100 metres in 10.49 seconds, the world record. Several sources indicate that her race was most likely wind-assisted. Although at the time of the race the wind meter at the event measured a wind speed of 0.0 metres per second (no wind), some observers who were present noted evidence of significant winds, and wind speeds of up to 7.0 metres per second were measured at other times during the track meet. The previous race on the track was measured at +5.2, and while the second quarterfinal was also 0.0, the third quarterfinal was +4.9.[8]

Since 1997 the International Athletics Annual of the Association of Track and Field Statisticians has listed this performance as “probably strongly wind assisted, but recognized as a world record”.[9] Griffith Joyner’s coach later stated that he believed her 10.49 second time had been wind-assisted[citation needed]. Besides this one race, Griffith Joyner’s fastest wind-legal time in this sprint was 10.61 seconds, which would also be the unbroken world record.

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-meter final, she ran a wind-assisted 10.54, beating her nearest rival Evelyn Ashford by 0.30 seconds. In the 200-meter semifinal, she set the world record of 21.56 seconds, and then she broke this record again in winning in the finals by 0.40 seconds with her time of 21.34 seconds.

At the same Olympics Griffith Joyner also ran with the 4 x 100 metres relay and the 4 x 400 metres relay teams. Her team won first place in the 4x100m relay and second place in the 4x400m relay. Their time is still the second fastest in history, following the winner of this race. This was her first internationally-rated 4 x 400-metre relay. Griffith Joyner was the winner of the James E. Sullivan Award of 1988 as the top amateur athlete (male or female) in the United States. She retired from competition shortly after that.

In 1996, Griffith Joyner appeared on the Charlie Rose show, and she announced her comeback to competitive athletics, only this time to concentrate on the 400-meter run.[10] Her reason was that she had already set world marks in both the 100-metre and 200-metre events, with the 400 world record being her goal. Griffith Joyner trained steadily leading up to the U.S. Olympic trials in June. However, tendonitis in her right leg ended her hopes of becoming a triple-world-record holder. Al Joyner was to also attempt a comeback, but he too was unable to compete due to an injured quadriceps muscle.[11]

Among the things she did away from the track was to design the basketball uniforms for the Indiana Pacers NBA team in 1989.[12]

Griffith Joyner appeared in the soap opera, Santa Barbara in 1992, as “Terry Holloway”, a photographer similar to Annie Leibovitz.

Flo Jo at the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988.

Aside from whether her 1988 Olympic trial world record was wind-aided, Griffith Joyner was dogged by rumors of drug use.

In 1988, Joaquim Cruz, the Brazilian gold medalist in the 800-meter run at the 1984 Summer Olympics, claimed that Griffith Joyner’s 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.[13] Before the 1988 track and field season, Griffith Joyner’s best time in the 100-meter sprint was 10.96 seconds. In 1988, she improved that by 0.47 seconds (or 0.35 sec for the non-wind-aided time). Similarly, her best before 1988 at 200-meters was 21.96 seconds. In 1988, she improved that by 0.62 seconds to 21.34 seconds, another time that has not been approached. Prior to the Olympic games in Seoul, she prematurely cut her European tour short (she had been booed off the track by the spectators).[citation needed] Griffith Joyner attributed the change in her physique to new health programs.[14] Al Joyner replaced Bob Kersee as her coach, and he changed her training program to include more lower body strength training exercises such as squats and lunges.[15]

Griffith Joyner retired from competitive track and field after her Olympic triumph in 1988.[16] She was repeatedly tested during competition, and she did not fail any of these drug tests.[17] Mandatory random out-of-competition drug testing came into effect during the 1989 season.[18]

After her death in 1998, Prince Alexandre de Merode, the Chairman of the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission, claimed that Joyner was singled out for extra, rigorous drug testing during the 1988 Olympic Games because of rumors of steroid use. De Merode told The New York Times that Manfred Donike, who was at that time considered to be the foremost expert on drugs and sports, failed to discover any banned substances during that testing.[19] Alexandre de Merode states:

“We performed all possible and imaginable analyses on her…We never found anything. There should not be the slightest suspicion [on Florence Griffith Joyner].”[20]

On September 21, 1998, Griffith Joyner died in her sleep at home in the Canyon Crest neighborhood of Mission Viejo, California, at the age of 38. The unexpected death was investigated by the sheriff-coroner’s office, which announced on October 22 that the cause of death was suffocation during a severe epileptic seizure.[16] She was also found to have had a cavernous hemangioma, a congenital brain abnormality that made Joyner subject to seizures.[21] According to a family attorney, she had suffered a tonic–clonic seizure in 1990, and had also been treated for seizures in 1993 and 1994.

Griffith Joyner’s supporters claimed that the autopsy cleared her of allegations that she used performance-enhancing drugs. The Orange County coroner’s office noted that the autopsy records showed that she did not die from drugs or banned substances. The coroner had requested that Griffith 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.[16]

The city of Mission Viejo dedicated a park at the entrance to her neighborhood in her honor. [22]


FloJo Made Speed Fashionable
By Kris Schwartz
Special to

“[Florence Griffith Joyner] was someone who wanted to make a fashion statement, as well as do it while running so fast you could barely see the fashion,” says Phil Hersh of the Chicago Tribune on ESPN Classic’s SportsCentury series.

Florence Griffith Joyner
Florence Griffith Joyner still holds the world record in the 100- and 200-meters.
With her outrageous looks and lightning speed, Florence Griffith Joyner captivated the world. Her racing attire consisted of a variety of outfits — some lace, some fluorescent, some bearing one leg. Her nails, sometimes longer than four inches, became a trademark.

In 1988, FloJo arrived in Korea for the Olympics as the favorite to win the 100- and 200-meter dashes. Just two months earlier at the U.S. Olympic Trials, she obliterated Evelyn Ashford’s world record of 10.76 seconds in the 100 with her time of 10.49 and ran the four fastest 100s ever (though one was wind-aided). She also set an American record in winning the 200.

In the 100-meter final in Seoul, the 5-foot-7, 130-pound Joyner bettered the Olympic record with her 10.54, but because it was wind-aided it didn’t go into the record book. On the way to the gold medal, she broke the Olympic mark three times in four races — which gave her the seven fastest 100-meter times in history.

She blistered Marita Koch’s world record of 21.71 seconds by running a 21.56 in the semifinals of the 200 meters. Then, less than two hours later, she bettered that mark with an amazing 21.34 in capturing her second gold medal.

But the drug scandal at the 1988 Olympics overshadowed her achievements. When the men’s 100-meter winner, Ben Johnson, had his gold medal stripped because he tested positive for steroids, FloJo’s races were looked on with skepticism.

Some suspected her of using performance-enhancing substances because of her incredible physique and stunning improvements in the past year. Brazilian middle-distance runner Joaquim Cruz accused FloJo of using performance-enhancing drugs. Magazines ran two photos side-by-side depicting her facial differences between 1984 and 1988.

Through it all, FloJo maintained that she never used drugs. Although she tested negative on all of her drug tests, the rumors kept swirling. And soon she left the sport she loved.

The seventh of 11 children, Florence Delorez Griffith was born on Dec. 21, 1959 in Mojave, Cal., 90 miles north of Los Angeles. When she was four, her mother Florence, a seamstress, left her father Robert, who was an electrical technician, and moved the family into the Jordan Downs housing project in the Watts section of Los Angeles.

As a child, Florence attempted many things. She sewed together her own clothes for her Barbie dolls and constantly tried on her mother’s dresses. She had handstand competitions with her siblings and neighborhood kids. She rode to the store on a unicycle. She even trained a pet rat, and once was asked to leave a mall when she came with a pet snake around her neck.

Her speed was shown at an early age. The Griffith children spent some time with their father in the Mojave Desert and when Florence was five, he dared her to chase jackrabbits. Eventually, she caught one. She ran potato-sack racing in a park. By the time she was seven, she was running track.

At Jordan High School, she set school records in the sprints and long jump. After graduating in 1978, she helped California State Northridge win the national championship the following year. Her sprint coach was Bob Kersee.

After the title, she dropped out of school for financial reasons and worked as a bank teller. In 1980, she enrolled at UCLA, where Kersee had become an assistant coach.

Florence Griffith Joyner
Florence Griffith Joyner’s world record of 10.49 in the 100 meters has stood since 1988.

As a junior in 1982, she won her first individual NCAA title, taking the 200 meters in 22.39 seconds. In 1983, although she slipped back to a second-place finish in the 200, she won the 400 in 50.94. After graduating UCLA that year with a degree in psychology, she finished fourth in the 200 at the World Championships.

At the 200 at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, she ran a 22.02 to take the silver medal, beaten by Valerie Brisco-Hooks, who set an Olympic record of 21.81.

After the 1985 track season, without financial means of support, she again went to work at a bank. At night, she often styled her friends’ hair and nails. Depending on the style, she charged between $45 and $200 for braids that would last five months. Meanwhile, she still found time to train under Kersee, and at the 1987 World Championships she won the silver medal in the 200 with a time of 21.96.

On Oct. 10, 1987, Griffith became part of the first family of track and field when she married Al Joyner, the 1984 Olympic triple jump gold medalist and brother of heptathlon Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

The following July, FloJo exploded into national prominence at the 1988 Olympic Trials in Indianapolis. With her 10.49 seconds in the 100 meters, she crushed Ashford’s four-year-old world record. Controversy came immediately when the wind reading of 0.0 appeared. Just 30 feet away on the triple-jump anemometer, winds swirled at an unacceptable 4.3 meters per second, and almost every sprint that day had a wind reading.

But Joyner’s record was upheld. The next day, she won the final in 10.61 with a legal wind of 1.2 meters, leaving no doubt that she was the “fastest woman in the world.”

A week after the Trials, Joyner left Kersee’s training camp and hired a business manager. Her husband Al took over as her fulltime coach. Financial differences and a lack of attention were the reasons given for the switch.

On Sept. 25, 1988, FloJo won her first Olympic gold medal. She got a terrific start in the 100 meters and past the halfway point she was smiling. Finishing in her wind-aided 10.54 seconds, she easily defeated Ashford, the defending champion.

Four days later, she astounded the track world with her world-record performance in the 200, pulling away in the second half of the race to beat Grace Jackson by .38 seconds. FloJo capped her Olympics by winning a third gold in the 4×100-meter relay and a silver in the 4×400 relay.

But four months later, the word’s fastest woman was gone from track and field.

In February 1989, the 29-year-old Joyner made the stunning announcement that she was retiring from competitive running to concentrate on business opportunities, such as acting and writing. Although she had invited anyone to test her every week if it would prove she didn’t use drugs, some felt that she was fleeing the sport while she could.

The rumors, though, wouldn’t cease. Later in 1989, sprinter Darrell Robinson told a German magazine, Stern, that FloJo paid him $2,000 for 10 cubic centimeters of human growth hormone the previous year. She denied the accusations vehemently. Appearing on The Today Show with him, she called Robinson “a compulsive, crazy, lying lunatic.”

After her retirement, FloJo wrote children’s books, poetry and a romance novel. She began an acting career, making guest appearances on the sitcom 227 and the soap opera Santa Barbara. She established her own clothing design and cosmetics businesses. She fulfilled a lifelong dream as a fashion designer, even designing uniforms for the Indiana Pacers in 1989. While she trained for long-distance running, she never made a serious comeback.

On Nov. 15, 1990, she gave birth to her only child, Mary Ruth Joyner.

In April 1996, Joyner was rushed to Washington University’s Barnes-Jewish Hospital after suffering a seizure on a flight to St. Louis. Two-and-a-half years later, she suffered a much more serious seizure.

Ten years after capturing the admiration of America, while sleeping in her home in Mission Viejo, Cal., she died of suffocation during a severe epileptic seizure on Sept. 21, 1998. Florence Griffith Joyner was 38 years old. While questions resurfaced about drugs, the autopsy did not reveal any use of steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs in her system.

FloJo still owns the world records in both the 100 and 200 meters.


December 21, 1959 – September 21, 1998