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Florence G. Joyner
This date marks the birth of Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1959. She was a Black track athlete who won three gold medals and one silver medal at the 1988 Olympic Games.
Florence “Flo-Jo” Delorez Griffith-Joyner was born in Los Angeles, CA. She was the seventh of eleven children born to Robert, an electronic engineer, and Florence Griffith, a seamstress. The family lived in Littlerock, California, before Florence Griffith moved with her children to the Jordan Downs public housing complex in the Watts section of Los Angeles.
When Griffith was in elementary school, she joined the Sugar Ray Robinson Organization, running in track meets on weekends. She won the Jesse Owens National Youth Games two years in a row, at the ages of 14 and 15. Griffith ran track at Jordan High School in Los Angeles.
Showing an early interest in fashion, Griffith persuaded the members of the track team to wear tights with their uniforms. As a high school senior in 1978, she finished sixth at the CIF California State Meet behind future teammates Alice Brown and Pam Marshall. Nevertheless, by the time Griffith graduated from Jordan High School in 1978, she had set high school records in sprinting and the long jump.
Griffith attended the California State University at Northridge and was on the track team that won the national championship during her first year of college. However, Griffith had to drop out to support her family, taking a job as a bank teller. She found financial aid, and she returned to college in 1980, this time at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).
Brown and Griffith qualified for the 100-meter final at the trials for the 1980 Summer Olympics (with Brown winning and Griffith finishing last in the final). Griffith also ran the 200 meters, narrowly finishing fourth, a foot out of a qualifying position. However, the U.S. Government had already decided to boycott those Olympic Games, mooting those results. In 1983, Griffith graduated from UCLA with her bachelor's degree in psychology.
Griffith finished fourth in the 200-meter sprint at the first World Championship in Athletics in 1983. The following year, Griffith qualified for the Olympics in the 200-meter distance with the second-fastest time at the United States Olympic Trials, held in Los Angeles. Evelyn Ashford, another UCLA alumnus and early favorite to medal, dropped out of the 200-meter due to injury. Griffith went on to win a silver medal in the 1984 Summer Olympics.
After the 1984 Olympic Games, she spent less time running. She came out of semi-retirement in track to dominate the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. Griffith-Joyner's record-breaking performances there were partly motivated by a second-place finish at the 1987 World Championship Games. In the 1988 Seoul Games, she won gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and in the 400-meter relay. For these accomplishments, she received the Jesse Owens Award, given to the year's top track and field athlete, and the Sullivan Award, given to the year's most outstanding amateur athlete.
Griffith-Joyner earned the nickname "Flo-Jo" for her blazing speed. She was famous for her flashy one-legged uniforms as well as her long and extravagantly painted fingernails. She retired from the track in 1989 to devote more time to endorsement activities, modeling, writing, and coaching her husband. President Bill Clinton appointed Griffith-Joyner co-chairperson of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports in 1993. Florence Griffith-Joyner died of an apparent heart seizure in 1998. To many, she represented the embodiment of a new ideal for American women.
She seemed to possess a perfect combination of strength and beauty. She also had an exemplary record of community service, for which she won the 1989 Harvard Foundation Award for outstanding contributions to society.