Global EditionASIA 中文双语Français
Home / Sports / Track and field

New generation attempts to find its Flo

Sprint legend's records still stand after 36 years, but for how much longer?

Updated: 2024-06-14 09:38
Share - WeChat
Florence Griffith Joyner strides to a world record in a semifinal heat for the Olympic women's 200m sprint in Seoul, South Korea, on Sept 29, 1988. With a new generation of women sprinters getting ever closer, the hallowed records held by "Flo-Jo" might finally be broken. AP

For generations of sprinters in the women's 100 meters, 10.49 seconds is the world record they've been chasing since 1988.

For Al Joyner, it's a time he sees everywhere he looks. Like the other day, when he was contemplating putting a pair of his late wife Florence Griffith Joyner's spikes up for auction and happened to glance at the clock. It read 10:49.

"I think, at those times, she's saying, 'hello, how are you doing? I'm still here,'" Joyner said in a phone interview.

The aura and records of Griffith Joyner hover over the track to this day.

Known for her long and colorful nails, flashy outfits and her cool "Flo-Jo" nickname, she had a magical run in 1988 that rewrote the record books. She set the 100m mark of 10.49 at the US Olympic Trials, and the 200m mark of 21.34 on her way to a gold medal at the Seoul Olympics.

It had seemed as if the records might never be touched. But, Flo-Jo's benchmarks now appear to be within reach. With the Paris Games coming up this summer, there's a cast of sprinters springing from the blocks who don't see an intimidating time — but, rather, a record that's meant to be broken.

"I mean, (a few) years ago, I would have said, 'no, that's never happening,'" American Gabby Thomas said last season of the 200m record. "With the technology and the way our competitors are running? Absolutely. I might just be crazy enough to believe that it's something that could happen in the next few years."

Jamaican sprinter Shericka Jackson nearly eclipsed Flo-Jo's 200m mark at the world championships in Budapest, Hungary, last summer, finishing in a time of 21.41, the second-fastest ever.

Joyner's take? Go for it. Because he'd like to see it.

Shericka Jackson of Jamaica crosses the line to win the gold medal ahead of Gabrielle Thomas of the United States in the women's 200m final during the World Athletics Championships in Budapest on Aug 25, 2023. AP

"I remember Florence being asked about someone breaking her records and how she would feel," said Joyner, whose wife died in her sleep in 1998 at the age of 38 as the result of an epileptic seizure. "She said she would be sad, but happy, because records are meant to be broken, adding that it would be like losing a best friend."

Of the 10 fastest times in the 200m, five have been turned in by Jackson, two by Thomas and one by Elaine Thompson-Herah of Jamaica, with the other two belonging to Griffith Joyner.

At the worlds, Jackson actually wrote two times on her racing number before the event — 21.40 (she nearly predicted her time) and another which she wouldn't reveal.

Of course, it may have had something to do with Griffith Joyner's time.

"When I crossed the line and I saw the time, I was like, 'I'm close. I'm close,'" Jackson said after the race.

In the 100m, Thompson-Herah — who is the two-time defending Olympic champion in both sprints — got within shouting distance of Flo-Jo's mark with a run of 10.54 in 2021.

She's the only one to dip into the 10.50 — or lower — outside of Griffith Joyner. That is, with what's considered a legal wind (2.0 meters per second or less).

Thompson-Herah looked as if she might make a run at the record in Paris, but health may play a factor. She appeared to be hurt at the finish line of the USATF New York City Grand Prix meet on Sunday.

On the precipice, too, is 37-year-old Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, whose career best is 10.60. Another who has potential to lower the mark is American Sha'Carri Richardson, the reigning world 100m champion with a larger-than-life personality, who could be the world's next great female sprint star. Richardson ran 10.57 in a meet on April 8, 2023, but the wind was over the allowed limit. Her top wind-legal time was 10.65 at the worlds in August, holding off Jackson and Fraser-Pryce.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (6) of Jamaica finishes ahead of Britain's Dina Asher-Smith (7) and Marie-Josee Ta Lou (4) of Cote d'Ivoire in the women's 100m final at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar. AP

"I see a new generation of Flo-Jos," said Joyner, himself an Olympic champion who won triple jump gold in 1984. "The legacy she has left, that she didn't even know she was leaving, is that her dreams have become many, many girls' dreams... What she always hoped for would be that they made bigger footsteps, because she never wanted them to be like her. She wanted them to be better than her."

Griffith Joyner's 100m record came on a breezy day in Indianapolis, but officials deemed it a legal wind. She eclipsed the mark of Evelyn Ashford, who ran 10.76 in 1984.

Since then, few have come close to touching Flo-Jo's mark. For comparison, the men's record has been lowered about a dozen times since 1988 to where it stands today — 9.58 by Usain Bolt in 2009.

"One of Florence's most famous slogans was believing in the impossible," Joyner said. "You set a standard of your own, and when you set a standard and you surpass it, that's when records fall and amazing things happen."

Even though the specter of doping haunted that era of track competition, Griffith Joyner passed every drug test. The only individual women's running records that have been on the books longer are the 400m (Marita Koch of East Germany, 1985) and the 800m (Jarmila Kratochvilova of Czechoslovakia, 1983).

What Joyner saw in Flo-Jo was a sprinter who never put boundaries on her performances.

What he sees today are sprinters who refuse to set limits.

"It's not, 'oh, it's such a scary record,'" Joyner said. "Those records will get broken. I don't know when. But they will be broken."


Most Popular


What's Hot
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349