Florence Griffith Joyner Biography
American track and field athlete Florence Griffith Joyner, better known as Flo-Jo, is remembered both for her athletic abilities and for her signature style of sporting long and brightly colored nails, long hair, and one-legged running suits. While she had to quit the sport briefly at 19 and began working as a bank teller, she was offered a place at the UCLA team, after sprint coach Bob Kersee spotted her at the bank. She eventually won 3 gold medals and a silver at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Though she was often accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs, drug tests proved otherwise. Her world records for the 100m and 200m events remain unbroken. In early 1989, she retired from athletics. However, she later focused on other activities, such as fashion designing, acting, and entrepreneurship. She died due to an epileptic seizure in her sleep at age 38.
Also Known As: Florence Delorez Griffith , Flo-Jo
Died At Age: 38
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
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
education: University Of California, Los Angeles, California State University, Northridge
Childhood, Early Life & Education
Florence Joyner was born Florence Delorez Griffith, on December 21, 1959, in Los Angeles, California, US, to an electrician father, Robert, and a seamstress mother, Florence Griffith. She was the 7th of the 11 children of her parents and spent her early years in Littlerock, California. Joyner was 7 when she began competitive sprinting and often practiced by chasing jack rabbits in the California desert, accompanying her father.
Her mother later moved with Joyner and her siblings to the Jordan Downs public housing complex in the impoverished Watts region of Los Angeles. While in elementary school, Joyner joined the Sugar Ray Robinson Organization and ran in weekend track meets.
Joyner also won the Jesse Owens National Youth Games for 2 consecutive years, at 14 and 15. She ran track at the Jordan High School in Los Angeles, too.
She showed an early interest in fashion, too, and made the members of the high school track team wear tights along with their uniforms. In her senior year in high school, she finished at the 6th place at the CIF California State Meet.
By her high school graduation in 1978, Joyner had set high-school records in both sprinting and long jump. She later began her college career at the California State University at Northridge, where she also led the Matadors to win the AIAW National Championship in her freshman year.
However, at age 19, she dropped out of school and began working as a bank teller to support her family. 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 and obtained her BA in 1983.
In 1983, Griffith finished 4th in the 200m sprint event at the World Championship in athletics. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Joyner bagged a 200m silver medal. Apart from gaining attention with her sporting abilities, she also gained fame for her long, boldly colored fingernails and her equally unique racing suits.
She went on a small hiatus and then changed her training techniques in 1987. The same year, she married 1984 triple jump Olympic champion Al Joyner and changed her name to Florence Griffith Joyner, eventually gaining the nickname Flo-Jo. She also won a World Championship gold in 4×100m and a silver in 200m at the same event in 1987.
At the 1988 Olympic trials, Joyner created a world record in the 100m sprint event, clocking 10.49 seconds. She thus broke Evelyn Ashford’s record of 10.79, beating even the men’s records in countries such as New Zealand, Norway, Turkey, and Ireland.
Later that year, at the Seoul Olympics, Joyner bagged 3 gold medals, namely in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay events, and a silver in the 4×400m relay event. In the 100m event, she bagged her gold in just 10.54 seconds, just off the 10.49-second record set by her at the US Olympic Trials.
The games saw her break a 9-year world record for 200m semi-finals, while she set another world record in the final, clocking 21.34 seconds. Her world records for 100m and 200m have not yet been broken by any other athlete.
During this time, she faced a lot of rumors and media allegations for steroid use, though 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.
The same year, she was awarded the Sullivan Award, as the best amateur performer of the country. In February 1989, she announced she would retire from racing due to her various business commitments.
In 1995, Joyner was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame. She also received the United Negro College Fund’s Distinguished Service Award. Though she made a comeback attempt in 1996, it ended with a leg injury, after which she never returned to mainstream sports.
Apart from her speed, Joyner is remembered for her signature one-legged running suits in bold colors; her long hair; her flashy jewelry; and her long, brightly painted fingernails. Her sense of fashion was unique and exceptional in the track and field arena.
Following her retirement in 1989, she focused on several business opportunities. She became a fashion designer and designed uniforms for the Indiana Pacers for the 1989-90 season. She also launched her cosmetics brand and clothing line.
She later penned children’s books, a romance novel, and several poems. She also launched a foundation for underprivileged children. From 1993 to 1995, she was the co-chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness.
During this time, Joyner also stepped into acting and guest-appeared in sitcoms such as 227 and the soap Santa Barbara. All the while, she endorsed brands such as Coca-Cola and Mitsubishi. She also had a Flo-Jo Barbie modeled on her.
An artist and painter, too, Joyner had created some engaging pieces of art, which were on display as part the Art of The Olympians (AOTO). She became one of only 2 posthumous members of the AOTO.
Griffith Joyner was also known as Dee Dee to her friends and family. She was once engaged to American hurdler Greg Foster.
In 1987, she married athlete Al Joyner, whom she had first met at the 1980 Olympic Trials. Al Joyner won the 1984 Olympic triple jump gold medal and was the brother of heptathlon champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee. On November 15, 1990, Joyner had her only child, her daughter Mary Ruth Joyner.
Death & Legacy
On September 21, 1998, Florence Griffith Joyner passed away in her sleep, due to suffocation, after suffering a massive epileptic seizure in her home in Mission Viejo, California. She was 38 at the time of her death.
While the media dragged in her history with drugs as a possible cause of her death, her autopsy surprisingly did not reveal any trace of any steroid or any other performance-enhancing drugs in her system. She only had minor traces of over-the-counter drugs, acetaminophen and Benadryl in her body.
She was apparently suffering from a congenital vascular brain condition known as cavernous hemangioma, which caused her to get frequent seizures. She was treated for the same earlier too.
Following her death, her Los Angeles elementary school was renamed in her honor in 2000. TIME magazine featured her in the 2020 List of the Most Influential Women