Born On: 21st December 1959
Born In: South Los Angeles
Died On: 21st September 1998
Florence Griffith Joyner, better known as “Flo Jo”, was the fastest woman alive. Since childhood, she was very independent and showed interest in running at a very young age. She was known for her marvelous athletic accomplishments as well as her personal sense of style. To achieve Olympic fame, she overcame difficult hurdles with her persistent nature. She immediately became an inspiration for many women. She won a silver medal in the 200-meter race at the 1984 Olympics and was quite an icon with her long stylish fingernails and stunning racing suits. In 1988 Seoul Olympics, she set a world record by finishing in100m and 200m sprint with timings of 10.49 seconds and 21.34 seconds, respectively. She also won 3 gold medals (100m, 200m and 4x100m relay) and a silver medal (4x400m relay) in Seoul Olympics. Read on to know about her profile, childhood, life and timeline.
Florence Griffith Joyner was born in Los Angeles on December 21st 1959. She was the seventh of eleven children of Florence and Robert Griffith. Her pet name during her childhood was “Dee Dee”. Her mother married Robert after she moved to California to seek out a career in modeling. The entire family was settled in Mojave Desert. In 1964, Florence’s mother left her husband Robert and moved to Los Angeles, into a neighborhood called “Watts”. The move was aimed at giving better educational opportunities to all eleven children. Flo Jo developed a sense of personal style in her early childhood. Her grandmother was a beautician so Flo Jo expressed her independence by getting creative with unusual hairstyles in grade school. Her personal style later became as famous as her athletic achievements. Most kids her age would be dying to blend in but Flo Jo wanted to stand out from the crowd. When she showed an interest in running, her mother fully supported her. So, at the age of seven, she entered the Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation competition and easily crushed her opponents.
At the young age of fourteen, she won the Jesse Owens National Youth Games competition. She was not only an outstanding athlete, she was also bright in academics. Her intelligence led her to apply for admission to California State University at Northridge. During her freshman years, Flo Jo was completely engrossed with business courses and in competing for the 200m and 400m track team events. She had to quit school because of financial problems. Bob Kersee, her coach, convinced her to finish school, soon after which he also helped her find financial support.
In 1980, her coach, Kersee, left California State University to work at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), a school that was famous for its track teams. Due to financial problems and the fact that UCLA did not offer her courses of her choice, Flo Jo chose athletics over academics. She continued her training with coach Kersee. The same year, in 1980, she was invited to the Olympic trials but missed qualifying for the team just by seconds. She wasn’t the kind who would accept failure easily so this increased her determination. She won the 200m race at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCCA) championship in 1982. The next year she won the 400m event at the NCAA. She finally won her place in the track team at the 1984 Olympic trials and competed in the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. She won the silver medal in the 200m race. She was also supposed to get a position on the sprint-relay team, but U.S. officials denied her participation because they thought that the length of her nails would interfere with the baton hand-off. She got very frustrated with her own performance at the Olympics and so took some time off from the athletic world to work as a customer representative for a bank and as a beautician.
Flo Jo received tremendous success and appreciation at the 1987 World Games held in Rome. She won a silver medal for the 200m race and gold medal as a member of the 400m relay team.
Egged on by her husband, in 1988, she went to the Olympic trials to set a world record. She finished running the 100m in just 10.49 seconds - 27 seconds faster than the former record set by Evelyn Ashford. Flo Jo had started to set a stage for unforgettable performances at the Seoul Olympics. It was also around this time that she was given the nickname “Flo Jo” by the media for her brightly colored running outfits, mostly designed by herself.
In 1988, she ran in the Seoul Olympic Games and won a gold medal for a time of 10.54 for the 100m sprint. She set a world record with the time of 21.34 in the 200 m, for which also she won another gold medal. She was also a part of the 4x400m relay team that received a silver medal. She was so focused on her goal that she would hardly rest, even in times of injury.
After the Olympics, she continued receiving many awards such as the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Sportswoman of the Year Award, Sports Personality of the Year Award given by the Tass News Agency, Jesse Owens Outstanding Track and Field Athlete Award, Associated Press Sportswoman of the Year Award, and Track and Field Magazine's Athlete of the Year Award. She also received the James E. Sullivan Trophy for being the top amateur American athlete.
Griffith tried to come back to Olympics at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996, but due to an injury she could not fulfill that dream.
Flo Jo, in the mid-1980s, started to date fellow Olympic athlete Al Joyner. At the 1984 Olympics he won a gold medal in the triple-jump competition. Kersee was training Joyner for the 1988 Olympic trials. Jackie, Al’s sister, was also training with Kersee at that time and later on Kersee married Jackie. With Joyner’s influence, Flo Jo started to run again. Her target was set on the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Before the Seoul Olympics, she married Al Joyner on October 10, 1987.
Her most important achievement was giving birth to her daughter, Mary Ruth on November 15, 1990. Throughout most of her career, she had to deal with ugly rumors of steroid use for her outstanding performances. She proved these rumors false by regularly giving blood tests. She wasn’t just a famous athlete, she was also very popular for her clothing line and various other business endeavors. Throughout her track presence, her elegance started catching people’s attention. She attracted many with her long fingernails, polished with vibrant colors and even became a fashion icon with her skin tight running outfits.
Flo Jo took her creative and imaginative talent off the track as well. She developed a clothing line, created nail products, wrote children’s books and experimented in acting. With her husband’s help, she established the Florence Griffith Joyner Youth Foundation in 1992 to aid disadvantaged youth. President Bill Clinton appointed her to the position of co-chairperson for the President's Council on Physical Fitness along with U.S. congressman Tom McMillen in 1993. In 1995, she was accorded a place of pride in the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Florence Griffith Joyner died at the age of 38. She suffered an epileptic seizure in her sleep at her home in Mission Viejo. Her sudden death occurred on 21st September, 1998, only three months away from her 39th birthday.
1959: On December 21st, Florence Griffith Joyner was born in Los Angeles.
1980: She chose athletics over academics.
1982: She won the 200m race at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship.
1984: She won a silver medal in the 200m race at the Los Angeles Olympics.
1987: She married Al Joyner.
1988: In the Summer Olympics, she won the gold medal in a time of 10.54 in the 100 m final. She won another gold medal in the 200m final with a new world record of 21.34. She also participated and won silver for her first international experience as a member of the 4x100m relay team.
1990: On 15 November 1990, she gave birth to her only child, Mary Ruth Joyner.
1992: She established the Florence Griffith Joyner Youth Foundation to help disadvantaged youth.
1993: President Bill Clinton appointed her to the position of co-chairperson for the President's Council on Physical Fitness along with U.S. congressman Tom McMillen.
1995: She was induced into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame.
1998: She died from an epileptic seizure at the age of 38, on 21st September.