Remembering Olympic gold medalist Florence 'Flo-Jo' Griffith Joyner Olympic gold medalist Florence "Flo-Jo" Griffith Joyner died in her sleep on Sept. 21, 1998. The sprinter's world records for the 100 meter and 200 meter events remain unbroken.

Remembering Olympic gold medalist Florence 'Flo-Jo' Griffith Joyner

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JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Twenty-five years ago today, Olympic gold medalist Florence Griffith Joyner, better known as Flo-Jo, died suddenly in her sleep. She's one of the most decorated Olympic female sprinters in American history, and she's celebrated for her speed and style - six-inch painted nails and colorful one-legged running suits. NPR's Ashley Montgomery has this remembrance.

ASHLEY MONTGOMERY, BYLINE: The 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. In the packed Olympic Stadium, Florence Griffith Joyner prepares for the 200-meter sprint. She's the one in lane five, wearing a gold bracelet on each wrist and gold earrings. Griffith Joyner and the other sprinters crouch down, put their feet in the starting blocks, and then...

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MONTGOMERY: ...Griffith Joyner burst away from the other sprinters. She is so fast.

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UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: First goal, and here she comes.

MONTGOMERY: As the camera focuses on her face, she starts to smile. She glides across the finish line, easily winning gold.

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UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Florence Griffith Joyner.

MONTGOMERY: She kneels on the ground and presses her hands into the track, her long red, white, blue and gold-painted nails visible to the world. Griffith Joyner beats the world record for the 200-meter sprint with 21.34 seconds. That record still stands today.

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UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing) She can fly like the wind. She can really go. She's Flo-Jo.

MONTGOMERY: She lands endorsement deals in Japan as well as acting parts in cameos on American TV. She even works with LJN Toys, who markets a doll in her likeness, long painted nails and one-legged running suit included.

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UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing) Flo-Jo.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The Flo-Jo doll comes with one outfit and Flo-Jo nail decals.

MONTGOMERY: But there was skepticism about her performance at the Olympics. A year after the Games in 1989, a former American track athlete named Darrell Robinson told a European magazine that Griffith Joyner gave him money to buy her growth hormones. Griffith Joyner denied the allegations and told The New York Times, quote, "it's all fabricated lies about drugs. I'd be a fool to take drugs." Here's sports commentator John Feinstein on NPR's Morning Edition in 1998.

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JOHN FEINSTEIN: In sports, especially Olympic sports, those rumors are always going to be there. And they were something she was asked about throughout her career and which she always denied.

MONTGOMERY: The medical commission for the International Olympic Committee, better known as the IOC, says it conducted rigorous drug testing on Griffith Joyner during the 1988 Olympics, and she turned up clean.

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FLORENCE GRIFFITH JOYNER: I knew that I have never taken drugs, so I didn't let that bother me what people said. I knew that it was...

MONTGOMERY: Here's Griffith Joyner speaking with journalist Ann Liguori in 1991.

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GRIFFITH JOYNER: I just tried not to take it personal and to move on.

MONTGOMERY: And so she did. Just five months after the Olympic Games in Seoul, Griffith Joyner retired from track. She became a mom. She pursued fashion design. She served as the first female co-chair of the U.S. President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. And she continued to combine sports and style.

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GRIFFITH JOYNER: Hi. I'm Florence Griffith Joyner, and the only place you can find the new Pacers uniforms is here.

MONTGOMERY: She even designed the NBA uniforms for the Indiana Pacers. Griffith Joyner did make an attempt to compete in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, but her return from retirement was short-lived. An injury prevented her from qualifying, and she never competed in the Olympics again. Two years later, on September 21, 25 years ago today, Griffith Joyner died from an epileptic seizure caused by an abnormality of blood vessels in her brain. She was 38 years old. Today, Griffith Joyner is enshrined as one of the greatest athletes in track. She revolutionized women's sprinting with her speed and fashion. Here she is speaking to NPR after the Seoul Olympics.

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GRIFFITH JOYNER: Getting down in those starting blocks and just hearing all the people cheering for me - that gave me extra energy. And everyone here has been extraordinarily nice to me, kind to me and treated me with great respect.

MONTGOMERY: Florence Griffith Joyner still holds the world records for the 100- and 200-meter sprints.

Ashley Montgomery, NPR News.

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