Athletics: "Flo-Jo", the myth and its questions for the first time approached

Athletics: “Flo-Jo”, the myth and its questions for the first time approached

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The American Florence Griffith-Joyner, who died in 1998, has held the world record for 100m in 10 sec 49 for 33 years, a phenomenal time tainted with suspicion, and threatened for the first time, by the Jamaican Elaine Thompson-Herah.

The now six-time Olympic champion, author of a resounding triple 100-200-4×100 m at the Tokyo Games in early August, achieved Saturday in Eugene (Oregon) the 2nd best time in history in 10 sec 54 and aligns Thursday in Lausanne (Switzerland), where the expectation is immense.

Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah, winner of the 100m, at the Diamond League meeting on August 21, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon JONATHAN FERREY GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/Archives

– “Flo-Jo” the icon –

From the start of her career in the early 1980s, the native of Los Angeles stood out with showy outfits, endless colored nails and a certain sense of elegance that clashed with the tartan.

The American Florence Griffith-Joyner, during her 200m semi-final at the World Championships, September 3, 1987 in Rome
The American Florence Griffith-Joyner, during her 200m semi-final at the World Championships, September 3, 1987 in Rome AFP STAFF

Her style, which she cultivated until her triumph in 1988, will remain cult, like her stride. The homages to the “Flo-Jo” look have never stopped, with megastar Beyoncé (in 2018) and tennis player Serena Williams earlier this year at the Australian Open.

“When I see her races, I like to look at her mechanics, her magnificent technique. I’m trying to do the same as her but I don’t think I’ll be able to do it perfectly yet, I’ll work on it. She’s a good inspiration for our sport,” said Elaine Thompson-Herah.

– The transformation –

Florence Griffith, married to triple jumper Al Joyner in 1987, her future coach, finished 4th at the 1983 Worlds in the 200m before building a nice record: she was Olympic vice-champion in the half-lap at home in Los Angeles in 1984, as at the 1987 Worlds in Helsinki where she also won gold in the 4×100 m relay.

The joy of American Florence Griffith-Joyner, and her husband, Al Joyner, American triple jumper, after her victory in the 200m final on September 29, 1988 at the Olympic Games in Seoul
The joy of American Florence Griffith-Joyner, and her husband, Al Joyner, American triple jumper, after her victory in the 200m final on September 29, 1988 at the Olympic Games in Seoul STF AFP/Archives

In 1988, his performance exploded and his physical appearance changed with a very significant gain in muscle mass.

That season, the 28-year-old athlete, already well established at the highest level, cut 47 hundredths of a second from his best 100m time and 62 hundredths from his 200m benchmark.

She thus established two world records, including the mythical one for the straight line on July 16, 1988 in Indianapolis, in the series of American selections for the Seoul Olympics. In South Korea, she crushed the competition and won the titles in the 100, 200 and 4x100m, in addition to silver in the 4x400m.

The joy of the American Florence Griffith-Joyner, Olympic champion in the 100m, on September 25, 1988 at the Olympic Games in Seoul
The joy of the American Florence Griffith-Joyner, Olympic champion in the 100m, on September 25, 1988 at the Olympic Games in Seoul RON KUNTZ IOPP/AFP/Archives

These brutal changes in performance and appearance will forever fuel suspicions of doping.

“This change has been faster than anything imaginable,” legend Carl Lewis wrote in his 1990 autobiography.

“His physical appearance, those muscles that are popping up everywhere, made a lot of people wonder. And then his voice, which got a lot deeper.”

The American Florence Griffith-Joyner, Olympic champion in the 200m, with a new world record (21.34 sec), on September 29, 1988 at the Olympic Games in Seoul
The American Florence Griffith-Joyner, Olympic champion in the 200m, with a new world record (21.34 sec), on September 29, 1988 at the Olympic Games in Seoul ROMEO GACAD AFP/Archives

In 1989, the American, who had never tested positive, announced her retirement to everyone’s surprise.

She died of an epileptic fit in November 1998, suffocated in her bed. A very young death (38 years old) which had fueled suspicions at the time about taking products earlier in his life.

– The wind –

On the day of the 100m world record, the wind was blowing hard in the Michael Carroll stadium in Indianapolis, where measurements were regularly taken between 2.7 and 5 m/s, enough to prevent the homologation of a performance ( above 2 m/s).

Two of the 100 m series, including that of Griffith-Joyner’s record, are credited with zero wind which then seems unlikely to the witnesses.

Australian biomechanist Nicholas Linthorne wrote a report in 1995 at the request of the international federation, indicating that the measurement could not be good, writes the newspaper L’Equipe, and that the record should be changed. A piece of advice not acted upon.

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