In this the Olympic summer you'll probably be hearing more about Florence Griffith Joyner, the sprinter in Spandex coming to an issue of People Magazine near you. But, really, there's nothing unusual about her. She's like any other some-time beautician/sprinter. She starts the day with a yummy breakfast of amino acids, vitamins and water and ends it listening to motivational tapes. In between, she works long hours on the track and in the weightroom, works even longer on her hair and nails, not to mention the next zany outfit she'll spring on the track world, and then she pulls up to the table for a cozy homemade meal cooked by her Olympic gold medalist husband Al. Yo, USA Today, are you getting all this?!
Until this past weekend, Griffith Joyner was known more for her strange getups, her curling six-inch finger nails and her beauty than for her running, even if she was an Olympic silver medalist. But all that changed over a single weekend, and with it women's sprinting was changed forever.On Sunday, running in the U.S, Olympic Track and Field Trials in Indianapolis, Griffith Joyner won the finals of the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.61 to complete a startling series of races. In the process she left Evelyn Ashford, the defending Olympic champion and former world record holder, a badly beaten second. All Ashford did was clock 10.85, a time only two other women had bettered. For the record, Gwen Torrence was third with a superb time of 10.91 and was so happy about it that she rolled around on the track like a playful pup. The top four finishers clocked 11-flat or better - "We sent a message to the East Germans," said one coach - and yet those marks paled next to Griffith Joyner's.
In one 24-hour period, counting the qualifying rounds, G-J produced the four fastest times in history (although one was voided by an illegal wind aid). What's more, she didn't take down the world record by a tick or two, but by chunks: a wind-aided 10.60 in the first round and a mind-boggling world record 10.49 in the second round, both on Saturday, a 10.70 in Sunday's semifinals, then her 10.61 in the final. Before that, the world record, set by Ashford, was 10.76; it had stood four years.
"I was stunned," said Griffith Joyner's coach, Bob Kersee. So were many people. Prior to this year, Griffith Joyner was primarily a 200-meter runner because her poor starts were a liability in the 100; her best time was a 10.96. A little over a year ago, fed up with mediocre performances, she nearly retired from the sport; she cut her trade-mark 61/2-inch nails _ "Because I couldn't cut hair with them," she said _ and went to work while pondering her future. Then she came to Kersee, some 15 pounds overweight, and asked for help. He put her in the weightroom and on a diet that includes amino acids, vitamins and water and little else for breakfast. Apparently it all has worked. G-J raced only twice over 100 meters this year, but clocked 10.99 and 10.89 last month. "I'm ready for the world record," she told Kersee.
"Wait till it counts," he told her.
On Saturday, Kersee told her the wait was over, to go for the world record if the wind was right. By Sunday, the only questions were not one of victory, but, would she break her own astounding record and, more importantly, what Spandex creation would she wear this time? In recent years, G-J has raced in skimpy one-piece swimsuits, full-length body suits, hooded spiderman/speed-skating outfits. For the trials semifinals she wore a full-length black number, despite the staggering humid 95-degree weather. For the finals she wore a full-length blue and white number with, huh?, one leg bare from hip to toe. "I design them," she had the nerve to admit.
After the race, after pushing women's sprinting ahead 10 to 20 years, Griffith Joyner announcedl, "The 200 is my better race. I'm on world-record pace." Which must be a frightening thought to the Europeans.
If G-J is ushering in a new era in the sprints, Edwin Moses and Mary Slaney are giving no such hope in the specialties they have dominated for more than a decade. They made that clear on Sunday.
Moses, who will turn 33 next month, was supposed to be meeting his stiffest challenge yet in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles, from young bucks like Kevin Young, Andre Phillips and Danny Harris. But Moses broke away early and held his ground on the homestretch to win the fastest intermediate hurdles race in history comfortably. Moses clocked 47.37, the seventh fastest time of his career and, tellingly, the seventh fastest ever. Second went to Phillips in 47.58, third to Young in 47.72 and fourth to David Patrick, in 47.75. That left Harris, the '84 Olympic silver medalist who ended Moses' 122-race win streak last year, fifth _ in 47.76 _ and out of the Olympic Games.
"I haven't peaked yet," said Moses after the race, only his fifth of the year. "This looks like it will be the year I will go under 47 seconds." As for his challengers, he said, "I didn't pay much attention to the rest of the guys; when I'm running at my best . . . ."
It is much the same for Slaney. After a two-year layoff for injuries and child birth, she was back in again, running by herself in the 3,000-meter finals, casually looking for her husband in the crowd down the backstretch. But wait, with two laps to go, she had company in Villanova's Vicki Huber, a rarity indeed for Slaney in domestic races. "I was surprised," said Slaney. "I was happy to have Vicki come up with me. I felt challenged." But Slaney pulled away from her challenger with 200 meters, finishing in 8:42.53, three seconds ahead of Huber, proving that for now the distances still belong to Queen Mary.