30 years on and Florence Griffith-Joyner is still fastest woman of all time

The next Olympic Games will take place in Tokyo, Japan in 2020. The XXIV edition of the modern edition was also held in East Asia, with South Korean capital Seoul beating Japanese city Nagoya to the honour of hosting the most historic sporting competition on the planet. Among the highlights of the 1988 Games were the achievements of Florence Griffith-Joyner, the American track athlete who remains the fastest woman of all time 30 years on from the greatest moment of her illustrious career.

Born and raised in California, Griffith-Joyner’s talent was clear from a young age. She won the Jesse Owens National Youth Games in two consecutive years as a teenager, before setting new high school records in sprinting and long jump and then winning a prestigious national championship at the California State University at Northridge. Griffith-Joyner continued to improve and made a major breakthrough in the run-up to the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, qualifying for the 100-metre finals and only narrowly missing out in the 200 metres. Unfortunately for the youngster and her fellow athletes, though, the United States decided to boycott the tournament due to its location in the capital of the Soviet Union.

Griffith-Joyner continued to go from strength to strength, however. She qualified for the 200 metres finals at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and went on to win the silver medal with a time of 22.04 seconds, which saw her finish ahead of everyone but gold medallist Valerie Brisco-Hooks. Griffith-Joyner took a break from athletics after the Games in her home state, marrying US Olympic triple jump champion Al Joyner and accepting a job at a bank. She returned to the sport in 1987, though, finishing second at the 1987 World Championships in Italy and then qualifying for the 100 metres at the 1988 Olympic Games trials with a new personal record of 10.96 seconds. She went one better in the 200 metres at the trials themselves, running the 100 metres in an astonishing 10.49 seconds to set a world record which stands to this day.

At the Games themselves, Griffith-Joyner set a new Olympic record by crossing the finish line in the 100 metres finals in 10.54 seconds; that earned her a gold medal ahead of fellow podium finishers Evelyn Ashford (silver) and Heike Dreschler (East Germany). The American, it turned out, was saving her best for the 200 metres, though: not only did Griffith-Joyner also win that event, she set a new world record in the process by completing the race in 21.34 seconds. Just like her remarkable 100-metre time in the Olympic trials, that achievement has yet to be surpassed more than three decades on.

That was not the end of Griffith-Joyner’s accomplishments in Seoul, with the 29-year-old also helping the United States to triumph in the 4 x 100 metre relay and finish second in the 4 x 200 metre event. She therefore left South Korea with four Olympic medals in her collection – three gold and one silver, a phenomenal feat.

Griffith-Joyner retired from athletics the following year and tragically died in 1998 at the age of just 38. The fact that her world records still stand in 2018 is testament to her extraordinary talent.

 

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