The horse racing triple crown drought is over, thanks to American Pharoah, Serena Williams is on the verge of grasping the calendar Grand Slam, and the Kentucky Wildcats were so close to a perfect season. Millions of sports fans have heard their entire lives about Affirmed, Steffi Graf and Bob Knight’s 1976 Indiana Hoosiers, common knowledge burned into their minds like the multiplication tables.
Which leads us to what may be the next great sports accomplishment waiting to be paralleled. For 27 years, through the doldrums of the performance enhancing drug era, Florence Griffith-Joyner’s 10.49 seconds in the 100 meters on July 16, 1988, and 21.34 in the 200 from Sept. 29, 1988, have stood unbroken.
Thirteen times the men’s 100-meter mark has been lowered, four times by Asafa Powell and three by Usain Bolt. With unprecedented training and nutrition techniques, plus added pressure from sponsors and agents, especially in changing eras for women’s sports, one would think a 10.48 runner would be on the horizon.
“It’s been a while,” said U.S. sprinter Jasmine Todd, of Chandler, Ariz. “Seeing the way the 100 has been progressing over the years, every year it keeps getting faster and faster, and everyone is getting stronger, so pretty soon it will either be met or broken.”
Todd made it to the semifinals of the 100 meters at the World Championships in Beijing Monday. The event was eventually won by Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in 10.76 seconds – three tenths off the record.
“That record was set before I was born,” said U.S. sprinter Jeneba Tarmoh, who was born almost a year to the day after Griffith-Joyner’s 200 record. “I definitely think about it all the time. I don’t like to focus on a number target. I think it’s about time to go down if it’s been up there for longer than most of us have been alive in the sport right now.”
Tarmoh ran a qualifying leg for the U.S. team that eventually set the world record in the 4-by-100-meter relay in 40.82 seconds at the 2012 London Olympics. That relay mark broke an East German record that stood for 27 years by half a second.
“I think it will be eventually broken, if not now, but in the Olympics, you never know,” said 24-year-old sprinter Kamaria Durant of Trinidad and Tobago.
Other women’s records stand, such as East Germany’s Marita Koch in the 400 from 1985, Jarmila Kratochvilova in the 800 from 1983, and Yordanka Donkova’s 12.21 100-meter hurdles from 1988 all remain untouched. The high jump, long jump, shot put, and discus, as well as Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s 7,291 points in the heptathlon at the 1988 Olympics are on the market.
“It has been a long time, but I believe, the women who are lining up here are ready to go,” said U.S. hurdler Dawn Harper-Nelson, who owns the 11th-fastest 100-meter hurdles at 12.37 seconds. “Wheels are spinning, we’re mentally tough.”
We lost Griffith-Joyner 17 years ago next month, but it seems like a little bit of her stays alive with each major championship passing and her marks remaining. It adds to her mystique and flair, and some day when they are broken, her number might be forgotten, but she’ll likely never be.