Florence Griffith Joyner
The late Florence Griffith Joyner, popularly known as ‘FloJo’, died at her home in Mission Viejo, California in September, 1998, aged just 38, having suffocated during a severe epileptic seizure. A graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, Griffith Joyner first attracted worldwide attention when winning the silver medal in the women’s 200 metres at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, behind compatriot Valerie Brisco-Hooks. Instantly recognisable by her one-legged jumpsuits, long, bouncy hair and ornate, curved fingernails, she quickly became the darling of the media. However, lacking the financial support to concentrate exclusively on track and field, Griffith Joyner was forced to seek alternative employment.
It was not until 1987 that Griffith Joyner started training seriously again. In October that year she married triple jumper Al Joyner who, alongside her official coach, Bob Kersee, oversaw her preparation for the 1988 US Olympic Trials. Together, Joyner and Kersee incorporated more weight training into her routine, giving her a more muscular physique, and improved her starting technique.
The result was nothing short of miraculous. On July 16, 1988, at the US Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, Griffith Joyner ran the 100 metres in 10.49 seconds. In so doing, she not only improved her personal best by over half a second, but set a new world record, beating the previous mark, set by Evelyn Ashford four years earlier, by 0.27 seconds. That September, at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Griffith Joyner set a new world record, 21.56 seconds, in the semi-final of the women’s 200 metres and lowered her own mark, to 21.34 seconds, when winning the gold medal in the final. At the time of writing, both world records still stand.