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Tiffany Haddish Gets the Role of a Lifetime–and a Unique Challenge

The actress is producing and starring in a biopic on track and field legend Florence Griffith Joyner.

The Summer Olympics in Tokyo are less than 50 days away. But for Tiffany Haddish, the training for her most demanding, high-profile role to date is only getting started.

The outspoken comedian and actress announced last week that she is set to produce and star in a biopic about three-time Olympic gold medalist Florence Griffith Joyner.

For Haddish, who catapulted to stardom following 2017’s hit comedy Girls Trip, the film presents the opportunity to portray one of her personal “she-ros.” In an official statement, the actor said, “I am looking forward to telling Flo-Jo’s story the way it should be told.”

But telling that story will be no simple feat.

After a historic stretch of wins in the late 1980s, the fastest woman of all time came to face questions about alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. The accusations crescendoed in 1988 when she returned to set records at the Summer Olympics in Seoul after a brief hiatus from the track.

Throughout her career, she never once tested positive for a banned substance.

In 1998, three years after being inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame, Florence Griffith Joyner tragically of from complications from an epileptic seizure at the age of 38.

Haddish is collaborating with sports-oriented content studio game1 for the film. In a press release, game1 announced plans to create a corresponding documentary series and podcast in tandem with the silver screen release. The multi-platform effort will allow Flo-Jo fans to get an in-depth look into the sprinter’s life from multiple perspectives.

And with a performer at the helm best known for a comic persona that pulls zero punches, we can expect that the production team will not shy away from taking on the difficult questions that continue to be linked to the Olympic gold medalist’s legacy — and balancing all this with answering criticism from the peanut gallery about the film’s casting.

Flo-Jo dazzled track and field’s biggest stages with her signature style and blazing speed. At every race, she lived her personal motto:  “Dress good to look good. Look good to feel good. And feel good to run fast.” And in 1988, Joyner became the world’s fastest woman in both the 100 meters and 200 meters at the US Olympic Trials and again at the Summer Olympic Games.

Her records of 10.49 seconds in the 100 and 21.34 seconds in the 200 still stand almost 35 years later.

But notably, her path to the podium was far less linear than her historic sprints to the finish line.

Flo-Jo attended California State University, Northridge, where she helped the team to a national championship in her first year. However, financial constraints forced her to drop out to support her family. She was working as a bank teller when her former coach, Bob Kersee, secured a scholarship for the speedy star and persuaded her to join him at UCLA.

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Even her professional career was riddled with false starts. After the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, where she secured two silver medals, Flo-Jo returned to the bank and began doing nails part-time, skipping out on the 1985 World Championships. When she returned full-time to the sport in 1987, her significant improvement — paired with an overhaul of her physical appearance — left certain critics heaving accusations of PED use.

Flo-Jo abruptly retired from the sport in 1989, citing a desire to start a family in addition to tending to a healthy endorsement portfolio that included deals with companies like Mizuno, Toshiba, Proxy, Sally Hansen, Agfa, and LJN Toys worth over $2 million (about $4.5 million when adjusted for inflation). She also kept a speaking schedule that landed her upwards of $25,000 per appearance.

Despite the lingering controversy in some circles, her influence remains not just intact, but powerful long after her untimely death, both on and off the track. Today’s greatest sprinters, including up-and-coming phenom Sha’Carri Richardson, routinely cite Griffith Joyner as an inspiration and a role model. Earlier this year, Serena Williams teamed up with Nike to honor the late star with her one-legged look at the Australian Open.

Although the production team is still in the process of locking in the key details of the film, Haddish is already training for the role that stands to define the next phase of her career.

To prepare, she is being trained by Flo-Jo’s widower, former coach, and Olympic triple jump champion Al Joyner. He will also serve as a producer and a creative consultant on the film, granting his blessing of the retelling of his wife’s life story and working to ensure her lasting legacy.

“I am so elated to team up with game1 and Tiffany Haddish on this project,” Joyner said. “Working with Tiffany has been a great pleasure – she is incredibly dedicated, focused, and committed to portraying the spirit of Florence accurately, whose legacy of making a difference in the world will live on for generations to come. I hope that this film touches all who see it and inspires people to BE the change the world so desperately needs right now!”

It’s a special kind of challenge. But Haddish is committed to making sure that she’s the single biggest reason that Flo-Jo’s story becomes as far-reaching and impactful as her athletic records.