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"Go hard as I can out of the blocks," Florence Griffith Joyner said last Thursday, recalling for the press how she had plotted out the Olympic 200-meter. "Make up the staggers on everybody in the turn. Stay relaxed. Use all I have coming home."
Griffith Joyner came home with tresses flying and her left knee lifting, as it always does, an inch higher than her right, giving the suggestion of a gallop to her stride. She came home in a magnificent world record of 21.34 seconds, improving on the 21.56 she ran in the semifinals, which in turn improved on the 21.71 that had stood for nine years. She came home with a leap across the line and a yell of complex and irresistible pleasure, and then dropped to a prayer of thanksgiving, with her head touching the track.
Rising to her knees, she saw her husband, Al Joyner, yipping and dancing in an Olympic Stadium tunnel. "Come here," she said, holding out her arms. "Come here!"
He ran to her, caught her up, spun her twice around in a graceful pirouette, and they embraced. It took great athletes to do this so well, to such effect. Tears flowed as if it were a wedding.
"A family affair," said Olympic heptathlon and long jump champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee as she watched, and she had reason to know, for she is Al Joyner's sister. More than that, these two women—these sisters-in-law—won or shared five sixths of the U.S. gold medals in women's track and field, and each broke a world record. These UCLA teammates and products of eight years of coaching by Jackie's husband, Bob Kersee, overturned the world and the Olympic balance of power in sprinting and long jumping. They showed that brilliance needs a nation no larger than a family to bloom.
They're competitors. "Jackie started all this stuff," says Florence. "She sets a record, and I have to go out and get even. After her heptathlon record in the trials, here was Bobby saying, 'You're not going to let your sister-in-law do this to you....' "
Yet they're not interchangeable. To hear Bob Kersee tell it, Jackie has to be horsewhipped to run any distance. To hear Al Joyner tell it, Florence has to be reined in. Flo-Jo has run as much as 13 miles a day and plans someday to enter a marathon. "She helped me with road runs for my 800-meter training," says Jackie.
They have shared Al—brother to one and husband to the other. They have shared Bob—husband and coach (Al, a triple jumper, also used to be coached by Kersee). They have always gotten along famously, but now they must weather Florence's switch from Bob's World Class Athletic Club to a new coach, Al, and a new business manager. "I don't call it a stolen star," says Bob, who naturally would have preferred that Florence stay with him. "I hold no personal contract with any athlete. She was free to do what she thought best. We have to not let gold medals and endorsements interfere with the family."
Jackie, as she usually does, puts it more simply: "Remember, no matter what we say, we all love each other."
Griffith Joyner, this overnight success who has been a world-class sprinter for seven years, has a sense of history. "Here's what sprinting is all about," she said in a reflective moment last week. "It's Evelyn Ashford chasing records set by Marita Koch and Marlies Göhr. It's Heike Drechsler chasing the records set by Ashford. It's me chasing records set by Drechsler. It's the wanting and the hard work that go into the chase."