Between the divisive partisan politics of the current election cycle and the downward spiral of the 24-hour news cycle, narratives shining a light on excellence are in short supply. The 17-days of international goodwill nurtured by the Olympic games in Rio are in desperate need.
Granted, the current situation in Brazil has produced some less than encouraging headlines. But if gymnasts from North and South Korea can be excited about taking selfies together, then there’s hope for the rest of us. Here’s a look back at some previous Olympic examples of #BlackExcellence that can be both a reminder of hope during particularly dark times and a predictor of things to come in Rio.
#BlackExcellence in the Olympics has a long legacy. Check out the Streampix premiere, Olympic Pride, American Prejudice. It’s the untold story of 18 Black athletes in the 1936 Olympic Games. XFINITY X1 will change the way you experience TV .
Florence “Flo Jo” Griffith-Joyner
Florence Griffith-Joyner’s dominance predates Instagram by roughly 22 years. That’s a shame, because if there was one athlete tailor-made for IG, it was “Flo Jo.” Her edges were laid, her nails stayed on point, and her flair for fashion introduced everything from lace embroidery to one-legged speed suits to the track. But this wasn’t merely a case of style over substance.
According to the International Association of Athletics Federations (the official governing body of track and field), Griffith-Joyner currently holds four of the fastest 100-meter dash times ever. This includes her 10.62-second gold medal mark at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Double the length of the race, and Flo Jo’s records continue standing the test of time, as she has the two fastest recorded times for the 200-meter dash as well. Not to belabor the point, but context matters here. Sprinters used to be timed by handheld stopwatches. The notoriously fast O.J. Simpson once put up a 9.4 second time in the 100-yard dash. So Griffith-Joyner was essentially putting up O.J. like numbers with six-inch nails and hair that flowed down her back in an outfit she once referred to as an “athletic negligee.” Slay, queen. Slay.
Of course, when it came to Flo Jo, discussions about “the race” weren’t merely limited to track and field. Whether it was outright racism or journalists who lacked the nuance to objectively discuss issues of class division and Black female sexuality, her bold fashion statements were routinely viewed as a negative. Patricia McLaughlin of the Chicago Tribune referred to Griffith-Joyner’s signature nails as “dragon-lady fingernails.” It should be noted all track athletes perform in some form of minimalist spandex. That didn’t stop fellow Tribune writer Phil Hersh from calling Flo Jo a “glamorpuss” in a “one-legger and white bikini bottom.” Meanwhile, her dominance brought on allegations of performance enhancing drugs, despite having never tested positive for any banned substances in her career.
One can’t overstate the fact that several of Flo Jo’s records stand unmatched to this day. And yet—in the realm of black femininity and shattering the glass ceiling in the same way she shattered so many track records—Florence Delorez Griffith-Joyner’s ultimate legacy extends beyond sport. She locked down endorsements with Mizuno track shoes, got paid to shout out Mitsubishi before Raekwon was “blowing slow in the Montero,” had her own doll, and she designed uniforms for the NBA’s Indiana Pacers. Flo Jo didn’t just lay the blueprint for fellow athletes such as Serena Williams. You can make a solid case she influenced the likes of Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé. You can follow today’s olympians with the X1 Sports app. Turn your TV into a scoreboard. Track multiple games at once and check the latest scores and standings.