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Sprinters catching up to Flo-Jo’s hallowed 100, 200 world records that have stood since 1988

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For generations of sprinters in the women’s 100 meters, 10.49 seconds is the world record they’ve been chasing since 1988.

For Al Joyner, it’s a time he sees everywhere he looks. Like the other day when he was contemplating putting a pair of his late wife Florence Griffith Joyner’s spikes up for auction and happened to glance at the clock.

It read 10:49.

“I think at those times she’s saying, ‘Hello, how are you doing? I’m still here,’” Joyner said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

The aura and records of Griffith Joyner hover over track to this day. Known for her long and colorful nails, flashy outfits and her cool “Flo-Jo” nickname, she had a magical run in 1988 that re-wrote the record book. She set the 100 mark of 10.49 at the U.S. Olympic Trials, and the 200 mark of 21.34 on her way to a gold medal at the Seoul Olympics.

It had seemed as if the records might never be touched. But Flo-Jo’s marks appear to be within reach with the Paris Games coming up this summer. There’s a cast of sprinters springing from the blocks who don’t see an intimidating time — but, rather, a record that’s meant to be broken.

“I mean, (a few) years ago, I would have said, ‘No, that’s never happening,’” American Gabby Thomas said last season of the 200 record. “With the technology and the way our competitors are running? Absolutely. … I might just be crazy enough to believe that it’s something that could happen in the next few years.”

Jamaican sprinter Shericka Jackson nearly eclipsed Flo-Jo’s 200 mark at the world championships in Budapest, Hungary, last summer, finishing in a time of 21.41 seconds, the second-fastest ever.

Joyner’s take? Go for it. Because he’d like to see it.

“I remember Florence being asked about someone breaking her records and how she would feel,” said Joyner, whose wife died in in her sleep in 1998 at the age of 38 as the result of an epileptic seizure. “She said she would be sad but happy, because records are meant to be broken. But that it would be like losing a best friend.”

Of the 10 fastest times in the 200, five have been turned in by Jackson, two by Thomas and one by Elaine Thompson-Herah of Jamaica, with the other two belonging to Griffith Joyner.

At worlds, Jackson actually wrote two times on her racing number before the event — 21.40 (she nearly predicted her time) and another which she wouldn’t reveal.

Of course, it may have had something to do with Griffith Joyner’s time.

“When I crossed the line and I saw the time, I was like, ‘I’m close. I’m close,’” Jackson said after the race.

In the 100, Thompson-Herah — who is the two-time defending Olympic champion in both sprints — got within shouting distance of Flo-Jo’s mark with a run of 10.54 seconds in 2021. She’s the only one to dip into the 10.50s — or lower — outside of Griffith Joyner. That is, with what’s considered a legal wind (2.0 meters per second or less).

Thompson-Herah looked as if she might make a run at the record in Paris, but health may play a factor. She appeared to be hurt at the finish line of the USATF New York City Grand Prix meet on Sunday.

On the precipice, too, is 37-year-old Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, whose career best is 10.60 seconds. Another who has potential to lower the mark is American Sha’Carri Richardson, the reigning world 100-meter champion with a larger-than-life personality who could be the world’s next great female sprint star. Richardson ran 10.57 seconds in a meet on April 8, 2023, but the wind was over the allowed limit. Her top wind-legal time was 10.65 at worlds in August, holding off Jackson and Fraser-Pryce.

“I see a new generation of Flo-Jos,” said Joyner, the 1984 Olympic triple jump champion. “The legacy she has left, that she didn’t even know she was leaving, is her dreams have become many, many girls’ dreams. … Because what she always hoped for would be they made bigger footsteps, because she never wanted them to be like her. She wanted them to be better than her.”

Griffith Joyner’s 100 record came on a breezy day in Indianapolis, but officials deemed it a legal wind. She eclipsed the mark of Evelyn Ashford, who ran 10.76 in 1984.

Since then, few have come close to touching Flo-Jo’s mark. For comparison, the men’s record has been lowered about a dozen times since 1988 to where it stands today — 9.58 by Usain Bolt in 2009.

“One of Florence’s most famous slogans was believing in the impossible,” Joyner said. “You set a standard of your own, and when you set a standard and you surpass it, that’s when records fall and amazing things happen.”

There was the specter of doping during that era in track (Griffith Joyner passed every drug test). The only individual women’s running records that have been on the books longer are the 400 meters (Marita Koch of East Germany, 1985) and the 800 (Jarmila Kratochvilova of Czechoslovakia, 1983).

What Joyner saw in Flo-Jo was a sprinter who never put boundaries on her performances.

What he sees today are sprinters who refuse to set limits.

“It’s not, ‘Oh, it’s such a scary record,’” Joyner said. “Those records will get broken. I don’t know when. But they will be broken.”

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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