Martin Rogers

FloJo's legacy very much alive 24 years after her triumphs in Seoul

Some athletes stand out. Others are outstanding. Precious few are both, yet neither statement comes close to summing up the impact Florence Griffith-Joyner made on the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.

Florence Griffith-Joyner set two world records at the 1988 Olympics that stand today. (Getty Images)FloJo, as she became known to the world, caught the eye with her lavishly painted, four-inch nails and ground-breaking outfits, then backed it up in the most emphatic style possible with her blistering speed on the track.

Heading into the London Games, her world and Olympic records from Seoul still stand and many question whether a woman can ever run so fast again.

The raw facts say that Griffith-Joyner won golds in the 100 meters, 200 and 4x100 relay as well as a silver in the 4x400. But this was more than a track meet; it was reality TV, a soap opera, and an epic drama all rolled into one 130-pound package.

"The attention was huge," FloJo’s husband, Al Joyner, told Yahoo! Sports. "People are always fascinated by speed, just like they are with Usain Bolt now. And she was doing incredible things that hadn't been done before."

FloJo had been catapulted into the spotlight at the U.S. Olympic trials, running an incredible 10.49 for the 100 to shatter the world record, despite being seen as primarily a 200 specialist. The time generated widespread controversy as it was widely believed to be wind-assisted, even though the stadium wind meter read 0.0 at the time of her race.

Either way, it set the stage for a showdown between herself and Evelyn Ashford, the defending Olympic champion, in the 100 at Seoul.

[Related: Carl Lewis' quest for four gold medals]

In the end, it was no contest. FloJo set two Olympic records in the heats and semifinal, and was so far clear at the final's midway point that she instantly broke into a grin. Her time of 10:54 did not count as an Olympic record due to wind assistance, but was a spectacular performance that saw her cross the line yards clear of Ashford.

The scandal that saw Ben Johnson stripped of his gold in the 100 for steroid use shifted a different sort of spotlight on FloJo and her dramatic improvement in form during the year of 1988. However, she never tested positive despite the admission of drug enforcement officials that she had been specially targeted for extra testing in Seoul.

"There is a reason for everything she achieved," said Al Joyner. "It was made possible by the approach she had in her mind to everything in her life. She had this passion for life, everything she did was at 100 percent.

"It didn't matter if it was the Olympic final or just something at home, everything had to be perfect. And if you strive for perfection, well, special things can happen."

Special things happened again for FloJo in the 200, the event in which she claimed silver in Los Angeles in '84 and in the '87 world championships. In Seoul, she broke the Olympic record in the quarterfinal, eclipsed Marita Koch's world record in the semis, then knocked another 0:22 off her own mark with a mind-blowing 22:34 in clinching a resounding victory in the final.

Even then, the medals kept coming in the event's closing days, as the U.S. narrowly held off East Germany to win the 4x100 before just missing out on a fourth gold, when the Soviet Union’s depth clinched the 4x400.

Six months later FloJo stunned the sports world by announcing her retirement to focus on other pursuits such as fashion design and writing.

In 1998, almost exactly 10 years after her finest hour, FloJo's life came to a premature end when she died suddenly at the age of 38. The tributes poured in, which are still relevant today.

"People are still trying to catch the records she set back in 1988," said track legend Carl Lewis, who won gold in the men's 100 in Seoul after Johnson's disqualification. "That is just an amazing legacy to have."

Other Summer Olympic Memorable Moments on Yahoo! Sports:
Nadia Comăneci didn't think she was perfect, even if '10s' proved otherwise
Marion Jones: Triumph and tragedy
The Dream Team give USA redemption

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Martin Rogers

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Martin Rogers spent seven years as a soccer writer for the London Daily Mirror, covering the English Premier League, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup and international soccer. A journalism graduate from Harlow College, he is now based in Los Angeles.

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