Black History Month Spotlight: Florence Griffith-Joyner
By: Maggie Barlow
As we all know February is Black History Month, so as we are coming towards the end of this month, I thought I would share some facts about a very influential athlete from the 70s and 80s.
Florence Griffith-Joyner an Olympic runner who specialized in sprinting events was born on December 21st, 1959 in California. Florence was the seventh out of eleven children in her family and often had to deal with poverty. She was clearly athletic from a young age winning her first race at just the age of seven and then winning the Jesse Owens National Youth Games at 14. Griffith competed at California State Northridge under the legendary sprint coach Bob Kersee and helped them win the national championship in 1978. Florence Griffith-Joyner, unfortunately, could not afford college at the time and was forced to drop out after two years. Luckily there was a positive moment when Bob Kersee accepted a job as a coach at UCLA and offered her a scholarship so she could come back and finish her college career. She then proceeded to run a very successful career and continue to break records and become well known throughout the country.
Florence wasn’t always successful. She tried out for the 1980 Olympics and failed to qualify, which left her heartbroken and devastated. One good thing to come out of that failure is that she would leave an impression on triple jump star, Al Joyner. She made a true name for herself during the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where she broke the world record. However, since it was so close to the record the officials declared that she hadn’t officially broken it. Florence, more casually known as Flo-Jo, was not giving up! She went on to beat that same record the next day taking more than a second off, proving she was the best athlete of her time.
From there, her career took off! In that single Olympic season she would win 3 Gold medals and 1 Silver. This performance would be second to 1948 woman athlete Fanny Coen. Griffith, due to her amazing and rare performance at the time, was the 1988 recipient of the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States. Flo-Jo also left a lasting impression with her 200-meter race victory ranked 98th in British TV Channel 4’s “100 Greatest Sporting Moments in 2002.” She then went on to marry famous Olympian Al Joyner, who finally got to meet the woman who made an impression on him years prior. Flo-Jo shortly retired after that performance but continued to stay active and never lost her passion for running. Unfortunately, Florence Griffin Joyner died unexpectedly at the age of 38 in 1998 from an Epileptic seizure. Her legacy will forever go down as one of the greatest female black athletes during the 80s. She went from living in poverty to proving that she was the best athlete at those Olympics, giving little girls around the world someone to look up to.