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Griffith-Joyner Just Getting Out of the Blocks : She Says Weight Training, Faster Starts Pushed Her to World Record in 100

July 24, 1988|HAL BOCK | Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Even in a town famous for speed, no one could have anticipated the kind of stopwatch explosion flamboyant Florence Griffith-Joyner set off last week.

And she doesn't even have an engine.

Griffith-Joyner, motoring on long, powerful legs, one bare, the other covered by a striking, purple body suit, went from start to finish in the women's 100-meter race faster than anyone ever has before.

And she did it four times.

She all but flew around the Indiana University track in the U.S. Olympic Trials, stunning the stopwatch people with a remarkable series of races as her long, black hair trailed majestically behind her.

The exclamation point of her effort came in an astounding 10.49, shattering Evelyn Ashford's world record of 10.76 by an unheard of 27/100ths of a second.

"It was a perfect race," Griffith-Joyner said later. "I had the best 30 meters of my life. That's been my goal. Everything was there."

Track experts tried to put the 10.49 in perspective. One suggested it was the equivalent of running 25 m.p.h. That's not Indy car speed, but it will do for human speed.

Understand, that the 100 isn't even Griffith-Joyner's best event. She has been troubled by slow starts and that has made her more productive at 200 meters. But a month ago, when she clocked 10.89 in a 100-meter race running into a headwind at San Diego, it occurred to her that great things were possible at that distance.

Her husband, Olympic triple jumper Al Joyner, urged her on. "I told her, 'Just think if there was no head wind that day. Let's go for the title, Fastest Woman in the World.' "

And at just about the time Joyner, the 1984 gold medalist in his event, was missing the 1988 team, his wife was making track history. "I got chills," he recalled. "I tried to catch the moment and hold on to it. The public address announcer kept saying, 'We're waiting for the wind reading.' I didn't have to ask names. I knew who it was."

Griffith-Joyner had reached for history and caught it. "I thought I could do 10.60," she said. "My goal was to make four rounds under 11 seconds."

The result was a series of a wind-aided 10.60, 10.49, 10.70 and 10.61. "She passed through a couple of levels with the 49," her coach, Bob Kersee, said. "That's just not ordinarily done."

But then, Griffith-Joyner is no ordinary woman.

She once let her nails grow to 6 1/2 inches and for the 1984 Olympics, she painted three of them red, white and blue for the flag, and the next one gold for the medal she was after.

She finished second. "That silver was gold to me," she said. "It was satisfying, but not good enough."

There were more second place finishes after that and Griffith-Joyner, now 28, began getting desperate. "I said to myself, 'Why am I always missing by one spot? What will it take?' "

Faster starts for one thing. Few races have had a more perfect beginning than the men's 100-meter race when Ben Johnson set a world record of 9.83 beating Olympic champion Carl Lewis in the world championships last year. Griffith-Joyner got the tape and studied it religiously.

"I watched the men, not the women, because it was the perfect start," she said. "It was so far out of the realm. Why shouldn't I do something different? I would like to run faster. If copying from Carl and Ben can help me do it, then that's what I'll do. It's leg strength that makes the difference, strength to push out of the blocks."

Kersee put her on a weight program including leg squats with 320 pounds and workouts associated more with an 800-meter runner. "Last year, I trained harder than I ever have," she said. "I was determined. This year has to be my year."

At the Olympic Trials, she punctuated her point and put the competition on notice. This is a serious attack on women track standards, being conducted by an unorthodox woman.

In a sport where athletes cut their hair short to reduce wind resistance, Griffith-Joyner keeps hers long, letting it flow out behind her like a mane as she runs.

"People have said I ought to put it up but it's not a disadvantage," she said. "It's pretty. I run wearing jewelry, too. I like pretty things and bright colors."

Which brings us to her running outfits and the daring one-legged look. A year ago, she showed up in a speed skating body suit, complete with hood, for preliminary rounds of the world championships. So it was no great surprise when she cut off one leg of this running suit.

"Conventional is not for me," she said. "I like things that are uniquely Flo. I like being different. The outfits they give us are so standard."

The ones she wears, though, are not. They are one shot affairs and if she runs in the cutoff look one day, she may come back with leotards the next. It depends on how she feels.

She designs all of the outfits herself and when she approached teammates like Jackie Joyner-Kersee, her sister-in-law and wife of her coach, about wearing them, it took some convincing.

"Jackie thought it was too different, too unique," Griffith-Joyner said. "Then she thought about it and decided to try it. I knew if Jackie wore it the others would. In April, we all did."

Running in long hair with fancy rings and bracelets, designing eye-popping running outfits, writing and illustrating children's books. Is there anything this talented lady can't do?

"She's a good cook, too," her husband said.

Maybe too good. Kersee said she was way overweight for a time, perhaps as much as 60 pounds. The charge triggered a light-hearted exchange during which Griffith-Joyner said it was more like a 15-pound problem.

Kersee wouldn't budge from his assessment , though.

"Sixty," he insisted. "I couldn't tell if you were coming or going."

He can now, unless he blinks. Then he might miss the world's fastest woman entirely.

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