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Griffith Joyner Takes Fast Route to Olympic Stardom

Washington Post

Florence Griffith Joyner looked at the scoreboard at Olympic Stadium and saw what she always expected to see, another world record. She fell to her knees, put her face to the track, mouthed a prayer of thanks, was lifted off the ground by her husband and spun around several times, then went off with her family to tell the world how and why she is as great as she is.

The how and why were important. Griffith Joyner, the greatest woman sprinter the world has ever seen, trimmed .37 of a second off the nine-year-old world record for the 200 meters in two races within two hours Thursday. Just as she had done with the 100-meter world record at the U.S. trials in July, she came almost out of nowhere to not simply slip under the record, but to smash it, seemingly effortlessly.

The family also is important. Thursday, her sister-in-law Jackie Joyner-Kersee won her second gold of the Games, setting an Olympic record with a long jump of 24 feet 3 1/2 inches. That went with the world-record heptathlon victory she scored earlier.

Amazing as Joyner-Kersee’s accomplishments were, those of Griffith Joyner were even more so. Such feats rarely happen in the numbered, ordered world of track and field and, when they do, some wonder why.

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Griffith Joyner offers many reasons. A silver medalist in the 200 in 1984, she says she finally gained power through weightlifting, enabling her to blast out of the starting blocks. Griffith Joyner is 5-foot-6 1/2 and weighs 130 pounds, but she is able to do partial squats with 320 pounds.

“If you think of running like a man, you have to train like a man, and weights are the main factor,” she said.

Although she has been a world-class athlete for nearly a decade, Griffith Joyner, 28, just now has begun to figure out how to run the race she won Thursday, the 200, which is run first on a curve, then on a straightaway.

“She told me after the semifinal, ‘I finally know how to run it,’ ” her trainer and husband, Al Joyner, said she told him between her two record runs.

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She has had the very best in coaching; first, brother-in-law Bobby Kersee; now, husband Al. Kersee is one of the premier coaches in track and field. Joyner, the brother of double gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee, won the 1984 gold medal in the triple jump and still races his wife.

“She beats me,” Joyner said. “She has the family record in the 100: 10.49 seconds to my 10.50. I want it back.”

Some have wondered if there is not another reason why Griffith Joyner has won every race this summer with ease, why she can look like she isn’t trying and set a world record, why she is cutting hundredths of seconds off long-standing records.

In the wake of the disqualification of Ben Johnson for steroid use, Griffith Joyner’s name has been thrown around with abandon as one who could come tumbling down next. Griffith Joyner, who now travels in entourages, was whisked from here to there and never answered the so-called drug question after winning her second gold medal.

But her husband and coach, Al Joyner, took it on several times.

“There’s a lot of envy and jealousy when someone does well,” Joyner said. “All it is is hard work . . . It’s a shame people don’t believe in hard work anymore. . . . But today, it’s all blood, sweat and cheers.”

When United Press International caught up with her later, Griffith Joyner said, “I know what the rumors are about me and they are not true. I have never used drugs, I will never use drugs and I don’t need to use drugs. They can come and test me every week of the year.”

The 200 always has been Griffith Joyner’s race; she only recently came to and conquered the 100. Back when she was known exclusively for her long, curling fingernails, she ran one mean 200, and won the silver medal in Los Angeles because of it.

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Between Olympics, she thought about quitting. A year and a half ago, she was 15 pounds overweight and working as a customer service representative for a bank in Los Angeles. She finally decided to return to training and began to lower her times toward her rendezvous with the Olympics.

The only regrettable thing about what Griffith Joyner does is that it happens so fast one can’t savor it before it’s over. She is so quick she doesn’t look quick. In the 200 semifinals, she ran her race in 21.56 seconds, 15 hundredths of a second better than East German Marita Koch’s world record of 21.71, on the books since 1979. In the final about 90 minutes later, she lowered the record to 21.34.

Joyner watched his wife run the semifinal from the curve. He watched the final from the finish line.

“If I see the smile, I know I can relax because she’s going to win the gold medal,” Joyner said.


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