Forever THAT girl!
Florence Delorez Griffith Joyner was born on December 21, 1959 in Los Angeles, the seventh of 11 children born to parents Florence and Robert Griffith, Women’s Running reports. She took to sports and fashion at an early age, learning to sew from her mother who was a seamstress and earning her competitive nature from her brothers.
“My brothers…they made me very competitive because they would knock me down and I couldn’t cry… If I cried, I wasn’t allowed to continue to play with them, so they helped me as far as my competitive edge is concerned. And in the world of fashion, because they didn’t want me to look like a boy and be out there playing,” Griffith Joyner once told reporters.
As a child, she was a member of the Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation, playing basketball, volleyball, football, and running track. By the time she was in high school, she had won the Jesse Owens National Youth Games two years in a row and set school records in sprints and the long jump. She would go on to become one of the most beloved and iconic track and field stars of all time, winning multiple Olympic medals; influencing popular culture; serving as co-chairwoman on Bill Clinton’s President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and being a mentor to underserved youth through her Flo-Jo International Foundation.
During a time when track and field was still under-monetized, Griffith Joyner became an international symbol of success, commanding appearance fees; designing fashion lines in Japan; uniforms for NBA’s Indianapolis Pacers; becoming a children’s books author; securing brand deals with Coca-Cola and Mitsubishi; appearing in television sitcoms and even boasting her own Flo-Jo Barbie doll.
Before there were any major track and field stars, there was Flo-Jo. In honor of her life, here’s a little bit more about why Florence Griffith Joyner was so iconic:
She is still the fastest woman runner ever.
In 1988, Flo-Jo burst onto the scene, recording times of 10.49 for the 100 meters and 21.34 for the 200 meters. Both records still stand today.
The second fastest women in the world who are alive today are Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, clocking in at 10.63 during the 100-meter this summer, and Gabby Thomas, who won the U.S. Olympic Trials 200 meters at 21.61.
She was a part of a family of Olympic-level athletes.
After high school, Griffith Joyner attended Cal State Northridge, becoming a part of Cal State Coach Bob Kersee’s champion-winning track program. The following year, she was forced to drop out of school due to financial reasons, landing a job as a bank teller to help support her family. When Kersee got an assistant coaching position at UCLA in 1980, he helped Griffith Joyner get financial aid, and she was able to re-enroll in school and get back on the track team. She met her future husband, Al Joyner, at the 1980 Olympic Trials. Joyner would eventually win an Olympic gold medal in 1984. Griffith Joyner began training with Al’s sister, Jakie Joyner-Kersee, who later married their coach, Bob Kersee. The Griffith-Joyner-Kersee family is considered one of the most legendary athletic families in U.S. history.
She had style.
While her skills were captivating, Flo-Jo’s style was even more entrancing. She could often be seen on the track sporting extra-long acrylic nails, flowing hair, and a full face of makeup. The daughter of a seamstress who learned how to sew as early as seven years old, Griffith Joyner oftentimes designed her own racing outfits. She wore fits with lace details, color-blocked bikini bottoms, and her iconic asymmetrical, one-legged bodysuits, which Serena Williams recently paid homage to last year in a similar get-up.
“I was inspired by Flo-Jo, who was a wonderful track athlete, amazing athlete when I was growing up. Well, watching her fashion, just always changing, her outfits were always amazing. This year, we thought of what can we do to keep elevating the Serena Williams [look] on the court. The Nike team actually thought of this design of inspiration from FloJo. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is so brilliant.’ She had such amazing style and iconic-ness,” said Williams.
“Dress good to look good. Look good to feel good. And feel good to run fast!,” Griffith Joyner once told reporters.
She left a remarkable legacy.
Today, 24 years after her death, there are athletes still chasing Griffith Joyner’s records. Her impressive athleticism and commitment to craft set the standard for the generations of athletes after her. While Griffith Joyner’s career was short, retiring just months after her record-breaking Olympic run, she continued to be the blueprint. While she and her husband Al started their family in 1990, welcoming a daughter Mary that November, rumors surrounding a potential comeback continued to swirl around her. But Griffith Joyner maintained that her retirement was a result of not being able to keep up with the fitness required to stay in peak performance while juggling the demands of her newfound fame. She never did return to the sport, passing away unexpectedly in her sleep at the age of 38 as a result of an epileptic seizure caused by a congenital brain abnormality.
Today her work lives on, evident in the generation of women athletes who keep her name alive and sojourn on in her honor. In honor of what would have been her 63rd birthday, we pay homage to this legend. Long Live Flo-Jo! Because of her, we can.
Here’s why track and field star Florence Griffith Joyner was so iconic. Photo Courtesy of Tony Duffy/Getty Images