Olympic Icon Flo Jo Raced To The Top and Took Us With Her
Beyond the nails, one-legged tracksuits, and world records, Florence Griffith Joyner set the stage for women to build million-dollar brands
Nearly 32 years ago, Florence Griffith Joyner solidified herself as an international sensation. The sprinter, more commonly known as Flo Jo, raced into the spotlight with record-setting speed, winning four medals — three of them gold at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Though she had a decorated track career since college, including an Olympic silver medal four years prior, Seoul made Flo Jo a bona fide track star. Her success on the track was punctuated by her flamboyant appearance. Flo Jo’s signature style — self-designed one-legged tracksuits and long, colorful fingernails — only added to her newfound fame.
Almost instantly, Flo Jo was inundated with media requests and endorsement deals. Her star was luminous. And then, four months later, Flo Jo abruptly announced her retirement from track and field. While the news shocked the world, her manager, Gordon Baskins, was unfazed by this choice. Baskins told the press he was not worried about Flo Jo’s decision, because “the truth [was] she’s worth more as a symbol.”
In many ways, Baskins was right. Flo Jo’s star did not fade after her retreat from track. Nor after her death in 1998. From Sir Mix-a-Lot’s lyrics to Beyoncé’s Halloween inspiration, the flamboyancy of Flo Jo created a cultural and fashion symbol that has endured for decades. These pop culture nods to the “fastest woman alive” (at the time), however, don’t fully capture the full extent of her legacy.
From her brand development to her fashion line, from the way her body was policed to her unapologetic fusion of athletic excellence with Black femininity, Flo Jo created a playbook for Black female athletes who later built brands in their own image. The track icon’s shrewd business moves and aplomb made way for her colossal and continual cultural influence that extends far beyond any finish line she crossed.
Born in 1959 in Los Angeles, Florence Delorez Griffith-Joyner was the seventh of 11 kids. Flo Jo joked that in her family you had to be fast if you wanted anything. After her parents…