Hyman, Flo (1954–1986)
Hyman, Flo (1954–1986)
African-American volleyball player who popularized the sport. Name variations: Flora Jo. Born Flora Hyman in Inglewood, California, on July 29 (some sources cite July 31), 1954; died in Matsue, Japan, on January 24, 1986; attended the University of Houston.
Led the American volleyball team to an Olympic silver in the Los Angeles games (1984); honored by the Women's Sports Association with the creation of the annual Flo Hyman Award (1987).
Born in Inglewood, California, in 1954, Flo Hyman rose from obscurity to international acclaim in volleyball, a sport few Americans knew much about. When a sister first encouraged her to join the high school volleyball team in Inglewood, California, Flo was already over six feet tall and growing. Athletically gifted, she soon became one of the nation's top players. Hyman attended the University of Houston where she was a three-time All-American. In 1974, she joined the U.S. national team and in 1976 was named the outstanding collegiate player. By this time, Hyman was 6'5" and, with the help of her coach Arie Selinger, had learned to use her height to tremendous advantage.
America had never been a power in world volleyball. It was not until 1974 that the U.S. Volleyball Association established a training center so that women's and men's teams could train year round, but the women's team failed to qualify for the 1976 Olympics. By 1978, however, the U.S. women's team ranked fifth in the world, a feat for which Flo Hyman was partially responsible. Her leadership was crucial in the 1978 and 1982 World championships. When the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980, she stayed with the U.S. national team. At this point, Hyman was considered one of the best volleyball players in the world, one of six players to be chosen for the All-World Cup team in 1981.
The American viewing public was finally introduced to volleyball at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics where Flo Hyman's tall, athletic figure was predominant. The matches received some of the highest television ratings of the Olympics. Millions cheered Flo and her team as they competed with the best in the world. The Americans won a silver, losing to the more powerful Chinese. "We accomplished a lot," said Hyman. "We're proud of our silver medal." In just a decade, Flo Hyman had brought American volleyball from obscurity into the spotlight.
Hyman, who was 30 in 1984 when she retired from the U.S. national team, faced the problem of many women athletes: there were no professional teams in America on which to play. Instead, she signed with the Japanese professional circuit. While on the court in Matsue early in 1986, age 31, Hyman suddenly collapsed and died of a ruptured aorta due to Marfan's syndrome, a genetic disorder. At the time of her death, she was planning to participate in the 1988 Olympics. In 1987, the Women's Sports Association created the Flo Hyman Award in her memory.
Woolum, Janet. Outstanding Women Athletes: Who They Are and How They Influenced Sports in America. Phoenix, Arizona: Oryx Press, 1992.
Karin L. Haag , freelance writer, Athens, Georgia