Florence Griffith Joyner Biography

Florence Griffith Joyner, also known as Flo-Jo, was an iconic American track and field athlete known for her remarkable athletic abilities and unique sense of style. With her long and brightly colored nails, flowing hair, and one-legged running suits, she left a lasting impression both on and off the track. Despite facing setbacks early in her career, she caught the attention of sprint coach Bob Kersee while working as a bank teller, leading to her inclusion in the UCLA team. At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, she achieved incredible success, winning three gold medals and a silver. Despite facing accusations of using performance-enhancing drugs, she consistently passed drug tests, proving her innocence. To this day, her world records in the 100m and 200m events remain unbroken. After retiring from athletics in 1989, she pursued various other endeavors, including fashion designing, acting, and entrepreneurship. Sadly, she passed away at the age of 38 due to an epileptic seizure during her sleep.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Florence Delorez Griffith, Flo-Jo
  • Died At Age: 38
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Al Joyner (m. 1987)
    • Father: Robert Griffith
    • Mother: Florence Griffith
    • Siblings: Elizabeth Tate, Kathleen Wiggs, Vivian Johnson, Weldon Pitts
    • Children: Mary Ruth Joyner
  • Born Country: United States
  • Athletes
  • Black Athletes
  • Height: 5’7″ (170 cm), 5’7″ Females
  • Died on: September 21, 1998
  • Place of death: Mission Viejo, California, United States
  • Cause of Death: Epileptic Seizure
  • U.S. State: California, African-American From California
  • More Facts
  • Education: University Of California, Los Angeles, California State University, Northridge

Childhood, Early Life & Education

Florence Joyner, born Florence Delorez Griffith on December 21, 1959, in Los Angeles, California, was the seventh of eleven children. Her father, Robert, was an electrician, and her mother, Florence Griffith, was a seamstress. She spent her early years in Littlerock, California, where she began competitive sprinting at the age of seven. She would often practice by chasing jack rabbits in the California desert with her father.

When Joyner’s mother moved the family to the Jordan Downs public housing complex in the impoverished Watts region of Los Angeles, she joined the Sugar Ray Robinson Organization and participated in weekend track meets. At the age of 14 and 15, she won the Jesse Owens National Youth Games for two consecutive years. She also ran track at Jordan High School in Los Angeles and showed an early interest in fashion, making the members of the high school track team wear tights with their uniforms. In her senior year, she finished sixth at the CIF California State Meet.

By the time she graduated from high school in 1978, Joyner had set high-school records in both sprinting and long jump. She began her college career at California State University at Northridge, where she led the Matadors to win the AIAW National Championship in her freshman year. However, at the age of 19, she dropped out of school and started working as a bank teller to support her family. It was during this time that sprint coach Bob Kersee spotted her at the bank and helped her join the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1980. She continued to study and run at UCLA, earning her BA in 1983.

Career

In 1983, Griffith finished fourth in the 200m sprint event at the World Championship in athletics. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, she won a silver medal in the 200m. She gained attention not only for her sporting abilities but also for her unique fashion sense, including her long, boldly colored fingernails and racing suits. In 1987, she changed her training techniques and married 1984 triple jump Olympic champion Al Joyner, taking the name Florence Griffith Joyner and earning the nickname Flo-Jo. That same year, she won a World Championship gold in the 4x100m relay and a silver in the 200m.

At the 1988 Olympic trials, Joyner set a world record in the 100m sprint event, clocking 10.49 seconds. She went on to win three gold medals at the Seoul Olympics in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay events, as well as a silver in the 4x400m relay event. She set world records for the 100m and 200m, which have yet to be broken by any other athlete. Despite facing rumors and media allegations of steroid use, drug tests revealed she had not used any banned substances. She was named the United States Olympian Committee Sportswoman of the Year and the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1988.

Following her retirement from racing in 1989, Joyner pursued various business opportunities. She became a fashion designer, launched her cosmetics brand and clothing line, and wrote children’s books, a romance novel, and several poems. She also established a foundation for underprivileged children and served as the co-chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness from 1993 to 1995. Joyner also ventured into acting, appearing in sitcoms and endorsing brands such as Coca-Cola and Mitsubishi. She was known for her unique sense of fashion, including her signature one-legged running suits, long hair, flashy jewelry, and brightly painted fingernails.

Personal Life and Legacy

Joyner was once engaged to American hurdler Greg Foster before marrying Al Joyner in 1987. They had one child together, a daughter named Mary Ruth Joyner, born in 1990. Tragically, Florence Griffith Joyner passed away on September 21, 1998, at the age of 38. She died in her sleep due to suffocation after suffering a massive epileptic seizure. Despite media speculation about her history with drugs, her autopsy did not reveal any trace of performance-enhancing drugs in her system. She was found to have a congenital vascular brain condition called cavernous hemangioma, which caused frequent seizures.

In honor of her legacy, her Los Angeles elementary school was renamed after her in 2000. TIME magazine featured her in the 2020 List of the Most Influential Women. Florence Griffith Joyner’s impact on the world of athletics and her unique sense of fashion continue to be remembered and celebrated.

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