In a stepping style, FloJo ran the run Track: This much is certain about Florence Griffith Joyner's 1988 feat: What she did was incredible

the way she did it was spectacular.


It wasn't so much the gold medals, which she won in triplicate. It wasn't so much the times, which some people found literally unbelievable. It was the style -- racy and edgy and undeniably glam.

Florence Griffith Joyner, who died of an apparent heart seizure yesterday at 38, was a race car done up in Day-Glo, a sprinter who stopped the show merely by spreading her polished six-inch nails on the starting line.

FloJo was fluorescent. She turned up for the world championships in a clingy bodysuit that might have been borrowed from the Cat Woman's closet. She designed and wore one-legged numbers in pink and turquoise. She painted her nails a patriotic red, white and blue -- and, of course, gold.

Then Griffith Joyner came blasting out of the blocks as if she were drag-racing down Sunset Boulevard, her brown mane streaming behind her like jet contrails. You go, girl!

For three high-octane months in 1988, the Queen of Seoul was a supernova. She appeared suddenly in the hazy summer sky above Indianapolis, went blinding-bright across an early Korean autumn then vaporized. When the Olympics were done, she took her three golds and a silver, waved goodbye and dashed no more.

Incredible times

Griffith Joyner was already 28, well past prime for sprinters, and when eyebrows were raised about her astounding times -- 10.49 in the 100 and 21.34 in the 200 that stand as world marks even now -- that was the reason. How did a woman get that fast that old?

She had been unnotable Flo Griffith four years earlier, when she won a lone silver medal against a boycott-riddled field in Los Angeles and called it quits. She was working as a bank secretary when Bobby Kersee, her old UCLA track coach and Jackie Joyner-Kersee's husband, talked her into coming back.

So Griffith Joyner went on a diet, hit the weights, worked out three times a day and dreamed up a competitive wardrobe that came off a fashion runway somewhere between Milan and Mars.

Nobody had ever dressed the way FloJo did or run as fast. Who else had the audacity to show up for a track meet dressed for Soul Train -- and turn her rivals into spectators?

When Griffith Joyner shattered the 100 mark during a routine heat at the 1988 Olympic trials, European sports editors phoned their correspondents to make sure the digits hadn't been transposed. Wasn't it a 10.94?

Maybe the wind gauge wasn't working. Or maybe Griffith Joyner was dipping into a pharmaceutical jar. Skeptics compared before-and-after photos from 1984 and 1988, wondering where the Popeye muscles had come from. Nonsense, she said.

"I know what the rumors are about me and they are not true," Griffith Joyner insisted. "I have never used drugs, I will never use drugs and I don't need to use drugs."

Though U.S. sprinter Darrell Robinson later claimed he had sold Griffith Joyner banned human growth hormones, the doping labs pronounced her body clean and her marks valid.

Yet as impressive as they were, her times weren't as stunning as her margins, the raw shock of seeing a leap and a bound between Griffith Joyner and her panting pursuers.

Pursuers in distance

The photos from Seoul all look the same -- FloJo solo, hair flying, nails flashing, quads and hamstrings and Achilles and hip flexors pumping. Griffith Joyner simply destroyed her events.

She beat Evelyn Ashford, the defending champion, by so much in the 100 that Ashford appeared to be running in the next race. She broke the world record in the 200 twice in two hours. Then, minutes after she won a gold medal in the sprint relay, Griffith Joyner came out and nearly won another in the mile relay, running against a fresh Soviet anchorwoman.

No woman had ever done that at Olympus, certainly not with that much flash. "Amazing sprints and spectacular outfits," Primo Nebiolo, chief of the international track and field federation, mused yesterday.

There would have been little upside to sprinting down the global runway for another quadrennium and Griffith Joyner knew that. XTC So she retired a few months later to design clothes (she created a "mean" and "aggressive" navy blue road uniform for the Indiana Pacers), write children's books, model and act.

She made an abortive comeback as a distance runner in 1992 (SloJo, one observer dubbed her). She sent in an entry form for the 1996 Olympic trials, but never showed. Supernovas only make one appearance.

At a glance

A look at Florence Griffith Joyner's career:

Born: Dec. 21, 1959, Los Angeles.

Died: Sept. 21, 1998, Mission Viejo, Calif.

Education: David Starr Jordan H.S., Los Angeles, 1978; UCLA, 1983, degree in psychology (attended Cal State Northridge for two years before UCLA)

Awards: AP Female Athlete of the Year, 1988; USOC Sportswoman of the Year, 1988; Sullivan Award (top amateur athlete), 1988.

World records: 100 meters, 10.49, 1988 Olympic Trials quarterfinal; 200 meters, 21.34, 1988 Olympics final (both records current).

Olympic medals: Los Angeles 1984, silver, 200 meters (22.04); Seoul 1988, gold, 100 meters (10.54 wind-aided); gold, 200 meters (21.34); gold, 400-meter relay (41.98), silver, 1,600-meter relay (3: 15.51).

Pub Date: 9/22/98

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