More than 600 people gathered in Mission Viejo on Saturday to celebrate the opening of a park named for Florence Griffith Joyner amid a sea of balloons and decorations as colorful as the late Olympic track star’s famously flamboyant fingernails.
The audience seized the moment to cheer for Griffith Joyner one more time as her husband, Al Joyner, joined city officials in unveiling a slightly larger than life bronze statue of the runner.
The statue is based on a photograph of Griffith Joyner in full stride, with her arms flung in the air as she crossed the finish line to win the 100-meter race during the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
“It shouldn’t be a surprise so many people came out to see this,” said Margot Ferron, 42, of Rancho Santa Margarita. “I was a runner in the 1970s and ‘80s, and I feel like I have a tie to her. Everybody here feels like they have a tie to her.”
Griffith Joyner lived in Mission Viejo, where she became a civic icon and popular for her volunteer work with young athletes. She also spent time in the South-Central Los Angeles neighborhood where she grew up, volunteering time and attending community functions.
She died while sleeping in 1998 after suffering an epileptic seizure. She was 38. Al Joyner and their daughter still live in Mission Viejo.
The City Council voted to name the park Florence Joyner Olympiad Park in 1999. The statue was donated to Mission Viejo by Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, which has a similar bronze statue of Griffith Joyner.
At Saturday’s ceremony, six children were awarded college scholarships in honor of Griffith Joyner.
The 17-acre park, which not long ago was a parcel of dirt, features manicured grass as well as playground equipment painted in Olympic colors. On Saturday morning, runners glided past the park’s plaza as Susan Withrow, a Mission Viejo city councilwoman, said: “We . . . could not imagine a more fitting tribute.”
Al Joyner read a poem about his wife. His voice broke as he read it over applause: “Her hair waved like a flag on a pole.”
“Thank you for naming this beautiful park after such a beautiful and caring woman,” he added.
Kim Hoxie, 30, brought her two children to the event. She read one of the statue’s inscriptions to her children: “Hold on to your dreams and never, ever give up.”
“I never met her, but I know she was always doing something in the community,” Hoxie said. “She was an individual. You’ve got to remember people like that.”