Kersee to FloJo’s Defense
The exact cause of Florence Griffith Joyner’s sudden death remained a mystery Tuesday, and it could take weeks before the final autopsy report is complete, but that didn’t prevent the track and field world from trying to pass the time with idle speculation about steroids.
“I’m sorry, but there was always a very strong rumor she was on something--everyone always talked about it,” Australian sprinter Tania Van-Heer told reporters at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.
“I’m sorry for her family, but she didn’t think about them too much. I’m sick of getting my . . . kicked when it’s only because I’m not on anything.”
From behind a lectern at UCLA’s Drake Stadium, where Griffith Joyner once competed and trained, Bob Kersee, her brother-in-law and former coach, lashed out against such charges during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
“It has never been proven by anyone that Florence had ever used anything illegal to improve her performance,” Kersee said. “It has not been proven by anybody that any athlete that I have coached has used any illegal drugs.
“What has happened--and, in a sense, I blame myself for allowing it to happen--is that people who are jealous have spread rumors. Nowadays, you don’t have to have any facts for someone to print bad things about you.
“Unfortunately, it’s come to a time where athletes and/or organizations play the game of tarnishing someone because if they can’t beat them and it [affects their] endorsements and praise, they say, ‘If I can’t beat you one way, I’ll beat you the other way.’ ”
Griffith Joyner, 38, died early Monday morning. Kersee said he spoke with the Orange County coroner’s office Tuesday and was told a preliminary autopsy “could not find any cause of death. . . . In terms of [initial reports of] seizures or heart seizures or heart attacks, none of that at the moment is true.
“Unfortunately, we have no idea why Florence left us.”
Long-jumping to conclusions half a planet away, Xavier Sturbois, chairman of the Belgium Olympic Committee’s medical commission, told Reuters that Griffith Joyner’s death was “something that could happen . . . because, without lingering over this case of this woman I don’t know from a medical point of view, it’s clear that using doping products could lead to this kind of accident.
“And when such accidents happen, everybody is surprised or everybody pretends to be surprised although it’s been described in [medical] literature for quite a few years.
“Athletes, as well as coaches and [sports] leaders will certainly draw lessons from this death, and they will cease to manipulate substances to the detriment of their athletes’ health.”
Kersee was asked about the seizure Griffith Joyner suffered on a flight between Los Angeles and St. Louis in 1996, which resulted in her brief hospitalization.
“She went to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. They did numerous tests and couldn’t find anything wrong,” Kersee said. “They held her overnight and then they released her.
“Unfortunately, I kind of know how that feels. About a year and a half ago, in the middle of the night, I got up to get a glass of water and all of a sudden I was face down on the floor with my wife over me shaking me. And I didn’t know what happened.
“I went to the hospital and stayed in the hospital for about two days and they checked my heart and everything and they couldn’t give me any reasons for me just blacking out.
“So, it’s just a mystery to us.”
Kersee said Al Joyner, Griffith Joyner’s husband, told him that Sunday night “Florence was feeling a little tired. He just told her to go to bed [early].
“From what I understand, in the middle of the night, Al woke up and found her not breathing. He called 911, the paramedics were there. Somewhere between their home and hospital, they pronounced her dead.”
Griffith Joyner’s world records in the 100 and 200 meters, set during her spectacular summer of 1988, have stood unchallenged for a decade. Her times of 10.49 and 21.34 seconds were nothing short of amazing, coming from an athlete previously regarded a notch below the elite female sprinters in the sport.
Her startling improvement prompted suspicion about possible drug usage, which Griffith Joyner consistently denied and Kersee vehemently rebutted again Tuesday, attributing her rapid rise to a rigorous training regimen.
“In 1988, people were not ready for female athletics,” Kersee said. “The media never took female athletics seriously 10, 20 years ago. [Coaches] didn’t allow women to work out as hard as women work out today. . . . Florence was one of those who started to go out there and push the envelope in training.”
Kersee blamed the media for perpetuating the suspicion over Griffith Joyner’s achievements by allowing “false rumors to spread, writing them as if they were fact and allowing my niece [the Joyners’ daughter, Mary Ruth], who is 7, to read things about her mother that are false.
“How would you feel if someone was spreading rumors about you and your daughter has to go to school and live with these things that have not been [proved to be] factually true?
“If you printed the facts only, and all you did was print the fact, it would be that Florence Griffith Joyner is a world-record holder, has competed well, has trained hard, has taken every drug test and has volunteered for drug tests--and has proven herself to be a true champion and a true role model.
“If you would write the truth, that would be the truth.”
Funeral arrangements for Griffith Joyner are expected to be completed today. For information, call the Angelus Funeral Home (3875 S. Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles) at (213) 296-6666. Condolences can be sent to the family at 267758 Margarita Parkway, Unit 385, Mission Viejo, 92691.