There were Al and Florence Griffith Joyner, rubbernecking through Seoul's Kimpo Airport, all of 10 minutes in South Korea and already looking for omens, when Al's baggage cart tipped over on Florence's left ankle, bruising her Achilles tendon. "Diary entry," said Florence. " 'Husband keeps me out of the Olympics.' That felt like a refrigerator fell on me."
"But it turned out to be good," Al said later. "She took two days off. I wanted her to take more, she was so ready."
"I stretched and iced and prayed," said Florence.
Ever since she shattered the world 100-meter record with a time of 10.49 in July's Olympic trials, the concern about Griffith Joyner was whether she could come anywhere near that stunning mark in Seoul against the likes of world champion Silke Gladisch-M‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áller and Heike Drechsler, both of East Germany. Transitions are trying, and in late July, Griffith Joyner embarked on a big one, relieving Al's brother-in-law, Bob Kersee (page 28), of his duties as her coach and business manager. Gordon Baskin became her manager, and Al her coach. "But in the family everything is the same," says Florence. "I hope Bobby knows it's good for me to move on, like a child leaving the nest."
October 2, 1988
Following the trials, the Joyners took a quick trip to Europe and then resumed training. "I'm so happy that she didn't chase around Europe for fool's gold," said Al. Instead, she worked on stride drills. "I ran with her a lot because I am about the same height [6'1"] as Drechsler [who's 5'11"]," he said. "She knows that she can match me stride for stride, so she's ready for Heike."
"I can outstride you," said the 5'7" Florence.
"The thing I like is I can't hear her running any more," continued Al. "She has perfected her leg lift to the point where she's pushing off the ground. She's definitely better than she was before the trials."
A week before they left L.A. for the U.S. training camp in Chiba, Japan, Griffith Joyner wrote two times in her diary: 10.62 heat, 10.54 final. Al thought they might be conservative. After her last workout before the Olympic 100, he said, "I looked at her and she looked slow, and I looked at the watch and knew she was ready. Hey, 10.3 wouldn't surprise me."
Griffith Joyner loves the building drama of successive rounds. "I get better each time," she says. In Seoul, she couldn't wear the compelling one-legged bodysuits in which she had broken records at the trials, because Olympic rules required her to stick to the standard-issue uniform. Still, in her first heat she wore a hood—"I don't know if it makes you better," she said, "but it sure makes you look different"—drew away at 50 meters and broke Evelyn Ashford's 1984 Olympic record with a time of 10.88.
In the quarterfinals Ashford got the mark right back, or half of it, turning in a 10.88 of her own. But in the next heat Griffith Joyner shifted to a gear with which only she is familiar and finished in 10.62. Besides being another Olympic record, it was, eerily, the prelim time she had set down in her diary.
On Sunday she drew the same semifinal heat as Drechsler. And she false-started. This would be Griffith Joyner's one occasion for apprehension during the competition. "I had to sit and be safe, to really wait for the gun then," she said.
Drechsler started well and sprinted on to equal her lifetime best of 10.91. Yet she finished the heat shaking her curls, because Griffith Joyner came in more than two meters ahead of her, with a time of 10.70. "I was so happy," said Al, "I left our stuff to chase her, and someone took the camera."
Unlike most races of this magnitude, the final, thanks to Griffith Joyner, was fun rather than a battle. "Most competitors are so focused they don't want to say hello," she said, "but I'm always chatting. Grace Jackson [of Jamaica] was talking to herself before the start: 'Come on, come on, you gotta do it, Grace.'
"So I said, 'Hey, you will do it.'
"And she said, 'I'm coming after you then. I am.'
"Later, when it was over [Jackson had run a fine 10.97 to place fourth], Grace said, 'You pulled me through.' "
Before all this Al was nervous again. "My heart was drumming hard," he said. "Then she came to the blocks and smiled, and I knew everything would be all right. She was relaxed. If she stays relaxed, no one can beat her."
For the final Griffith Joyner had shed the hood, and her carefully painted nails seemed a sparkling selection of Olympic pins. One carried gold Olympic rings on a red background. Another said U.S.A. One was done in polka dots, and one read GOLD in gold on a blue background.
She adjusted her rear block to feel more comfortable than she had in the semis. She got a terrific start. Her early going was smooth, and she sensed herself in front. Then the race was hers. "It was a 20-year dream," she said. "At that moment I knew everything was worth it. I felt so happy inside that I had it won I just had to let it out."
Her smile began growing at 70 meters, even as she roared away. By 90 meters it was a glorious grin. By 95 she had her arms up celebrating. At 100 the clock stopped at—yes—her ordained 10.54. Alas, the time won't be an official Olympic record, because a tail wind of three meters per second helped the runners. Her 10.62 from the quarterfinals will have to do.
Thinking, It's over, it's real, I have not dreamed this, Griffith Joyner knelt on the track and thanked God. Then, taking a flag from fellow UCLA alum Kevin Young, who had just come in fourth in the men's 400-meter hurdles, she carried the Stars and Stripes for a victory lap that ended in Al's arms. Under the stands, Drechsler grabbed her. "Congratulations," said Drechsler. "You're the best. So fast, so fast!"
Ashford took home the silver in 10.83, and Drechsler the bronze in 10.85. As the three stood upon the victory stand, Griffith Joyner thought of her family, which is so large that cousins and aunts had to arrange chaotic conference calls from the U.S. to Seoul after her victory to let them all squeal their delight. Too, she thought of how she had just won the 100, the glory race, the race she—the L.A. silver medalist in the 200—had never run internationally before this year. A few minutes later, when Kersee made his way to her with congratulations, Griffith Joyner said, "You were a good teacher. I thank you for it."
But she was a good teacher too. With that smile she beamed out all the sensations of her joyfully relaxed mastery in a way more evocative than any eye-popping outfit. We thank her for it.