This column also appeared in the Feb. 20 edition of The Daily Dispatch.
Editor’s Note: Our Black History and the Olympics series continues.
The title of the world’s fastest man is as fluid as the phases of a sprinter’s 100-meter race. The label holder is either the 100 record holder or the person who beats him head-to-head.
So there isn’t anyone who can truly claim to be the world’s fastest human — except for one. And she simply went by Flo-Jo.
Florence Griffith-Joyner was the seventh of 11 children, so she learned early how to fight for food and for bathroom time — an attribute that she carried with her until her adult life (Joyner had to fight doping allegations her entire track career). But it also made her fast.
As a junior at UCLA, Joyner won the NCAA 200-meter championship in 22.39 seconds. This led to her participation in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, where she earned the silver medal in the 200. But Joyner wasn’t satisfied with her second-place finish.
“I had always come in second and when you’ve been second best for so long you can either accept it or try to become the best,” Joyner once said. “I made the decision to try and be the best in 1988.”
Then came Indianapolis and the ‘88 Olympic Trials. It was there where Flo-Jo was born. It was there where she set the 10.49 100 world record. It was there when she became the odds-on favorite to win gold in Seoul.
The ‘88 Seoul Olympics was scarred by controversy. Roy Jones, Jr. was beaten out of the gold medal by South Korean native Park Si-Hun in a 3-2 boxing decision that many believed was fixed. Canadian Ben Johnson zoomed past a 100-meter field that included Carl Lewis to set a world record and win the gold. However, both the medal and the record were stripped after he tested positive for stanozolol.
Tennis returned to the Games in ‘88 after a 64-year hiatus were Steffi Graf added gold to her numerous Grand Slam titles.
But the Games belonged to Joyner. Joyner began the Seoul Olympics by winning the 100 in 10.54 seconds and concluded by helping the 4 x 400-meter relay to a silver medal.
In all, Joyner captured four medals — three gold and a silver — in Seoul (she also won the 200, setting the world record in the quarterfinals with a 21.34 and was a member of the winning 4 x 100 relay).
But as quickly as Joyner’s own races, she left track and field with the same swiftness. And although she never tested positive for any steroids or performance enhancers, Joyner had the cloud of accusation hanging over her head until her death in 1998.
Said nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis of Joyner, “People are still trying to catch the records she set in ‘88. It’s an amazing legacy.
“Many have tried and all have failed in terms of her records.”
Which serves as a great lesson. You can’t rewrite history.