Known more commonly as Flo Jo, Florence Griffith-Joyner was an American track and field athlete. Regarded as one of the fastest runners of all time, she still holds the world record for the 100 and 200 metre sprints, both set in 1988.
Flo Jo was glamourous. She wore 4-inch fingernails in bold colours, tiger stripe and animal print. They were originally 6.5 inches, but that prevented her from styling her hair. She ran the 1987 World Championships in a hooded silver bodysuit and she frequently wore the “one-legger”, which exposed one muscular leg entirely. Her clothing was always brightly coloured, often fluorescent and teamed with bold custom-made jewellery. Once during a race her nail flew off; afterwards she walked back down the track to find it. Phil Hersh of the Chicago Tribune commented on ESPN, she “was someone who wanted to make a fashion statement, as well as do it while running so fast you could barely see."
"Once during a race her nail flew off; afterwards she walked back down the track to find it"
Flo Jo’s appearance has always sparked controversy – her growing muscles, deep voice and sudden improvement in speed were suggestive of steroids, a speculative fog that still hangs over the Olympics.
While not on the track, she styled hair in the evenings. In her retirement she became a clothing designer, set up a cosmetics firm and wrote several romance and children’s novels. As a child she would sew clothes for her Barbies and rode a unicycle. She trained a pet rat and was once asked to leave a store when she arrived with a snake around her neck.
Flamboyant nail art has been popular throughout the 2012 games, with British swimmer Rebecca Adlington and track cyclist Victoria Pendleton sporting Union Jack nails while Hungary’s Suzana Jacobos sparkled a patriotic ice blue and white. Nail art has also cropped up in archery, shooting and hand ball. Gail Devers was also famed for her own insanely long, curling nails in the 1980s and this year there is a nail salon in situ in the Olympic village.
Olympic ring tattoos have been increasingly popular this year, while swimmer Ryan Lochte has worn an $25,000 diamond-and-ruby-encrusted American flag grill. Sanya Richards-Ross wore Chanel double-C earrings to scoop her 400m gold medal with a side French braid to boot along with a bullet necklace that her mother gave her as sentimental gift as a child.
Florence Griffith-Joyner died aged 38 from an epileptic seizure but her inspirational legacy lives on in her speed and style. She changed the image of the female track athlete, and set a world record in the process.
Text by Mhairi Graham