When Florence Griffith Joyner was 15 years old, she received one of her biggest disappointments from Jesse Owens.
Today, Griffith Joyner again was linked to the great sprinter and long jumper of the 1930s --and it was one of her most gratifying experiences.
Griffith Joyner, who sprinted to three Olympic gold medals and one silver medal in 1988, and broke world records in the women's 100-meter and 200-meter dashes, received the 1989 Jesse Owens International Trophy Award.
Her first association with Owens was when Griffith Joyner was 14 years old and won a race at the Jesse Owens Arco Games to qualify for a trip to San Francisco. That was her first time out of the Watts ghetto.
The following year, she won the race again, and thought she had qualified for a trip to Texas. But after being congratulated by Owens and telling him how happy she was about going to Texas, he jolted her by saying, "You won last year and (the) second-place (finisher) is going."
"He made a young girl cry," Griffith Joyner said.
"Later, I learned who Jesse Owens was and I could have kicked myself for what I had done . . . "
Ruth Owens said there was a striking resemblance between the running styles of her late husband and Griffith Joyner.
"She runs smooth, he ran smooth . . . as smooth as a black panther," Mrs. Owens said.
Griffith Joyner ran smoothly and brilliantly last year.
She shattered the world records by astonishing margins, lowering the 100 mark from 10.76 seconds to 10.49 and the 200 record from 21.71 to 21.34. And she won Olympic golds in those events, plus the 400-meter relay, along with a silver in the 1,600 relay.
In barely missing a fourth gold, she fell just short of Owens' remarkable accomplishment of winning four golds in the 1936 Olympics.
The Jesse Owens International Trophy Award is presented annually to the athlete who best personifies excellence in athletic performance and promotes sincere cooperation and understanding among people throughout the world.
Griffith Joyner was selected by an international panel of judges, easily beating the other finalists, West German tennis star Steffi Graf, who won the Grand Slam--Wimbledon, the U.S., French and Australian Opens--along with the Olympic gold in 1988, and swimmer Matt Biondi, winner of seven Olympic medals, five golds.
Griffith Joyner is to be honored tonight at the Jesse Owens International Trophy Award Dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.