She used the occasion to remind people of one of the greatest athletes of all time.
For most of us, Halloween costumes are best approached via one of two routes. Either you immediately admit defeat, pootle off to the nearest costume store and grab whatever is still on the shelves (‘sexy’ Handmaid anyone?), or you spend several weeks gluing together a complicated mess of cardboard and prosthetics because you’re determined to ‘do Halloween properly’ this year, before admitting defeat the day before your big event and pootling off to the nearest costume store.
But for celebrities, Halloween is a chance to stunt. To show off imagination, daring and the sheer resources at their disposal. Or, if you can’t be bothered, just stick on some Victoria’s Secret underwear and call it day.
And this year, there was a good showing. Chrissy Teigen and John Legend’s monarchical cosplay. Heidi Klum as Princess Fiona. Lupita Nyong’o recreating a pitch-perfect Dionne from Clueless – complete with giant phone. But they were all outdone by Beyoncé’s – second! – outfit this year, which chose to educate as well as wow. The star dressed as sprinter Florence Griffith–Joyner, with husband Jay Z complementing the Olympian theme with his own portrayal of Tommie Smith, one of the athletes who famously raised his fist in a black power salute at the 1968 Olympic Games.
If you don’t recognise the name Florence Griffith–Joyner, you’re not alone. “Remind me who this is?” read one comment on Instagram. “I don’t get it,” wrote another user. But for those in the know, the costume was an incredibly powerful statement. In the last day online, Google Trends shows searches for ‘Florence Griffith–Joyner’ have spiked by 100% - and Beyoncé is the top related topic.
“FLOJO,” posted one excited fan. “Beyonce is a genius and a great student of #history or shall I say #herstory.”
Because Florence Griffith–Joyner was an unparalleled athlete whose world records in the women’s 100m and 200m still remain unbroken, 30 years after they were set. Crowds at the 1988 Seoul Olympics watched, stunned, as Griffith–Joyner peeled ahead by several metres to smash the world record with a new time of 10.49 seconds – and that was just in the quarter-final. She went on to take the gold of course and swiftly followed the triumph with a 200m final run 21.34 seconds. No female athlete has bested either yet.
There were many attempts to write her achievement off. First pundits claimed her speed was due to ‘wind assistance’. Then came the accusations of doping, including cruel speculation by media barely a week after her death in 1998 on “[unnatural] muscle-bound frame” and “manfully deep voice”. But officials resolutely denied ever finding anything amiss.
“We performed all possible and imaginable analyses on her,” said then-president of the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission, Prince Alexandre de Mérode. “We never found anything. There should not be the slightest suspicion.”
Her husband and trainer, triple jump gold medalist Al Joyner, put her success down to modern methods.
“I trained her like a man,” he said, speaking in 2012. “We did a lot of things then that they do now with nutrition. The things that separated her were her mental focus and toughness. She was humble. My wife was great then and she is great now.”
‘Flo Jo’, as she became known to the world, was also one of the first athletes to embrace the fashionable side of sportswear. Long before Serena’s catsuit, there was Griffith–Joyner’s one-legged suit – like the record-breaking purple number Beyoncé chose to reproduce –, her lace leggings and metallic two-toned all-in-one. She wore bold, bright colours and refused to blend in on the track.
“Dress good to look good,” Griffith–Joyner said. “Look good to feel good. And feel good to run fast!”
2018 marks 20 years since Griffith–Joyner passed away, aged 38, from an epileptic seizure. Beyoncé’s choice to portray her now is doubly meaningful, arriving on a twin anniversary. One of the most watched-women in world made a deliberate decision to use Halloween as an occasion to raise awareness of the feats of a black athlete which – although far from forgotten – have risked slipping from recent memory. And in a year when some of the scariest elements have been a series of setbacks for racial equality, it’s a rousing call to arms. Perhaps we can make it to 2019 after all.