Florence Griffith: the Fastest Woman in the World

28 May, 2020
Florence Griffith set two records in 1988 which still stand to this day. Her life was almost as fast as her races, as she died at the young age of just 38 years old.
 

Over 30 years ago, the women’s 100 and 200-meter records were taken by the same woman, Florence Griffith. And they remain unbroken to this day. Want to find out more about the fastest woman in the world?

Florence Griffith’s short life

Griffith was also known as Flo-Jo and was born in Los Angeles in 1959. Her life was just as fast as she was, dying far too young at the age of just 38. In this article, we’ll pay tribute to the woman who is still the fastest woman on the planet.

Coming from a working-class family, she started competing as a child in school races and won over older classmates. Although she was talented in many ways, she had to leave school to work and help at home.

Everything changed when she met Bob Kersee. He told her she had potential as an international sprinter and got her a scholarship to UCLA where she started training on a daily basis. It didn’t take long for results to show, and she won several university championships.

Her debut in a competition outside the United States was at the 1983 Helsinki World Championships, where she finished 4th in the 200 meters.

A year later, she took part in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, where she won silver. After this, she married Al Joyner, an Olympic triple jump champion and brother-in-law of Bob Kersee.

Griffith temporarily moved away from training but soon returned to prepare for what would be her best and last games, Seoul 1988. Before that, however, she won the 4 x 100 gold and a silver medal in the 200 meters during the 1987 World Championship in Rome.

 
Florence Griffith sprinting.

Florence Griffith and her records that still persist

At the 1988 Indianapolis Trials, which qualified for that year’s Olympics, Griffith set a new record in the 100 m of 10.49 seconds. Her record was far quicker than the previous one of 10.76, achieved by Evelyn Ashford. Since then, no one has been able to beat it.

The 1988 Seoul Olympics was a defining most for Griffith. Her performance was extremely impressive, taking three gold medals (100 meters, 200 meters and 4 x 100 meters) and one silver (4 x 400 meters), and also setting a new 200-meter record of 21.34 seconds. Once again, no female athlete has ever run faster.

At the age of 29 and at the height of her career, Griffith announced that she was retiring from sprinting. Being more of a media person, she dedicated herself to advertising, had her clothing line, and even released a doll called Flo-Jo.

Griffith’s untimely death

Although it was never proven, there were rumors that Griffith had used drugs to improve her performance and achieve impossible records. People also claimed that the athlete’s hyper-muscular body was due to the consumption of certain substances since her muscles had increased in a very short time.

 

It also seemed suspicious that she’d withdrawn from professional athletics after randomized drug testing began outside of competitions.

Florence Griffith kneeling after a race.
Image: Gulf News.

Added to the fact that her family claimed she’d suffered from seizures since 1990 and received treatment for many years, this might explain how she came to die at such a young age.

Florence Griffith died in her sleep at her Mission Viejo home in September 1998. She was just 38 years old. Subsequent examination showed that she had a brain abnormality and died as a result of an epileptic seizure. She only had traces of antihistamine and pain killers in her body.

Off the track, Florence Griffith is also memorable because of her image. She always wore a lot of makeup, with striking clothes and very long nails painted in different colors. But she’ll doubtlessly, at least for now, mainly be remembered for being the fastest woman in the world.

 
  • Riaño, M. Florence Griffith-Joyner, la mujer que detuvo el viento. El Independiente. Agosto de 2017. https://www.elindependiente.com/tendencias/2017/08/05/florence-griffith-joyner-record-100-metros/
  • Siles, R. Mujeres del deporte que asombraron al mundo. La razón. Febrero 2019. http://www.la-razon.com/index.php?_url=/marcas/historicas-mujeres-deporte_0_3102289757.html