Joyner lawsuit


Almost a year after her death the spirit of Olympic sprint champion Florence Griffith Joyner (Flo-Jo) refuses to rest. An ugly rift has now broken out between the dead sprinter's husband, Al Joyner, himself an Olympic long jump champion in 1984, and his in-laws which has developed into a bitter court room squabble.

The 69-year-old mother of the late runner, also named Florence, last week issued a wrongful death lawsuit against her son-in-law. According to the Los Angeles Times, the four-page complaint filed in Orange County, California alleges Joyner failed to "exercise reasonable care to avoid foreseeable risk of harm" to his wife and that "harmful or offensive touching" caused her death. There is no more detail yet available to substantiate either of the accusations.

The escalation of the dispute follows years of wrangling between the two parties since last summer's somber tributes from her family and renewed charges from her detractors following the former champion's sudden death at the age of 38.

Griffith Joyner, renowned for her six inch painted fingernails and personally designed one-piece costumes, died almost 10 years after winning gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay and silver in the 4x100m relay at the Seoul games of 1988.

Although she never failed a drugs test, the sprinter famously consulted with Ben Johnson on his explosive starts and then embarked on a vigorous weight training programme which considerably changed her shape.

In June of 1988 Flo-Jo shattered the 100m world record running 10.49 seconds. Her time was faster than the automatically timed men's record in nations including New Zealand, Norway, Iran, Turkey and Ireland.

Skeptics pointed to her sudden improvements and bulging muscles and in the wake of Johnson's positive test and expulsion from the games speculation mounted that she too had used illegal methods. Moreover, Flo-Jo's reaction time to the starting gun of 0.131 seconds in the Olympic final was even faster than that of Johnson. She further fuelled the original speculation by retiring on February 25th 1989, the eve of the introduction of mandatory random drug testing.

Her death, however, was not linked to any abnormal use of drugs and a coroner's report found no evidence of foul play, concluding that Flo-Jo suffocated after suffering an epileptic seizure in her sleep.

While Joyner's manager David Brownstein dismissed the suit as meritless and ultimately tragic and described it as a "frivolous claim" his client, earlier this year, made an effort to evict his wife's mother from the Rancho Santa Margartia home he owns but where she has lived for eight years.

The ill-feeling does not end there as growing rivalry between the families has also developed over the two charities that each are running. Both were established in the runner's name and the fear is the dispute will tarnish both.

Joyner argues in court documents that he never promised his mother-in-law permanent housing and claims the move to evict her is part of financial restructuring aimed at looking after himself and his late wife's daughter Mary Ruth.

He has also claimed that his finances are sound. However, earlier this year an Arkansas court ordered Joyner to pay more than $40,000 to a bank having failed to repay a loan and in May the funeral home which handled his wife's mortuary services filed a lawsuit claiming that Joyner owes more than $12,000. The suit is pending.