But all that stopped in 1988, when the Flo-Jo phenomenon took root amid a string of incredible performances culminating in double sprint gold at the Olympic Games in Seoul.
She was undoubtedly a sprinter of note, claiming silver in the 200m at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles and again earning the runners-up spot in the world championships in Rome three years later.
But it was in the relatively humble surrounds of the US Olympic trials in 1988 that she made her astonishing breakthrough.
In the heats of the 100m she broke the world record held by compatriot Evelyn Ashford, knocking almost three tenths off the previous mark with an unheard of time of 10.49secs.
Controversy raged over the new time as the wind reading for the race was 0.0 while the triple jump equipment registered a wind speed of 4.3 miles per second a few yards away. Yet the record stood and only Flo-Jo herself has come within touching distance of the time ever since.
Her performances in Seoul were nothing short of remarkable. She literally devoured a world class field in the 100m final, beating Ashford and Heike Drechsler with blistering pace.
She clocked 10.54secs in the final after establishing a two-yard lead at the halfway stage and scorching away from the field in the second half of the race.
The 200m win was even more impressive, shattering the world record in the final with a time of 21.34secs to leave Jamaica’s Grace Jackson, who beat her own personal best by a large, trailing about five metres behind in silver medal position.
She also guided the American sprint relay team to gold in Seoul yet her decision to retire from international athletics soon after Seoul inevitably left the world pondering just where her dramatic improvement had come from.
Although it was widely suggested that performance-enhancing drugs were involved she never failed a test and a post-mortem after her untimely death in 1998 at the age of just 38 after an epileptic seizure also failed to pinpoint any prolonged use of doping.
Whatever the truth she was a truly remarkable athlete whose world records will long stand as testimony to her undoubted talents.