florence_griffith-_1447247cFlorence Griffith Joyner is one of the most flamboyant female athletes the world had ever seen, as well as one of the most successful. She grew up in the Watts area of Los Angeles as the seventh of eleven children. She began competing at athletics events while she was still in elementary school and continued to throughout her time in education. While attending UCLA she became the NCAA champion in the 200b meter and 400 meter events.

In 1984 she made her Olympic debut in Los Angeles winning a silver medal in the 200 meter race. At the 1987 World Championships in Rome she won another silver medal in the 200 meters as well as a gold medal in the 4 x 100 meter relay event. It was in 1988 that she cemented her legacy; at the U.S. Olympic trials she set a new world record in the 100 meter race with a time of 10.49 seconds. She also set a new national record in the 200 meter race with a time of 21.77 seconds.

At the Games in Seoul, Florence won gold in the 100 meter race in a time of 10.54, almost half a second faster than her closest rival (Evelyn Ashford). In the semi final of the 200 meter race she set a new world record with a time of 21.56 seconds, she went on to break this record in the final of the race with a time of 21.34 seconds. She also won a gold medal in the 4 x 100 meter relay race as well as a silver medal in the 4 x 400 meter relay. Her accomplishments in Seoul resulted in her being voted the American Sportswoman of the Year; in addition she earned a number of endorsement deals that were worth millions of dollars. The following year she was voted the Most Outstanding Amateur Athlete in America; she also announced her retirement from athletics.

Her career was not without controversy however as allegations of doping surrounded her, particularly after the setting of new world records. Florence strongly denied these allegations and stated that she had never failed a drug test. After her retirement she continued to participate in athletics, in 1993 she was named the co-chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness by Bill Clinton. She also established her own non-profit foundation for underprivileged children.

In 1998 Florence died unexpectedly in her home of an epileptic seizure aged just 38. Her legacy continues to live on, as almost 30 years after she set the world records in the 100 and 200 meter races, they still stand unbroken.

-Michelle O’Brien
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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