BEIJING — Chinese telecommunications equipment maker Huawei on Tuesday defended advertisements comparing its achievements with the late American sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner, dogged by doping allegations for setting records that have stood unbroken for some three decades.
The adverts circulated online feature a painting of Griffith Joyner, known as "Flo Jo", raising her muscular arms while crossing a finish line under the heading "Strategic Breakthrough".
Griffith Joyner posted relatively slow times early in her career but set jaw-dropping world records in the women’s 100m in the US Olympics trials in 1988 and in the 200m sprints at the Olympics itself in Seoul. She retired a year later.
No woman has ever run faster.
Like Flo Jo, the English-language advert reads, "Huawei’s people have persevered through decades of hard work, relentlessly pursuing the technological breakthroughs that will usher in our future information society."
In 1989 a track athlete said he sold Griffith Joyner human growth hormones before the Olympics, a claim she strenuously denied.
Joyner, who never failed a drug test, died in her sleep from an epileptic seizure in 1998, aged 38.
Analysts said the use of Griffith Joyner’s image despite the controversy appeared to reflect an attitude that, in business, the ends justify the means.
"In China, winning can come at any cost," Andrew Collins, CEO of the Shanghai brand management firm Mailman Group, said.
"Whether it’s sports or business you have a pass for any which way you get there, and I think Flo has that pass too."
Huawei spokesman Roland Sladek on Tuesday defended the advertisements, saying "the rumour was years and years ago".
"The controversy was old, there was never any proof of it, to my knowledge," he added.
Flo Jo was chosen to illustrate one of the company’s "main values" as part of a multiyear, multimillion dollar global campaign, he added.
Griffith Joyner epitomised "breakthrough" as her training showed that if someone was focused and persevered, "at some point you will succeed", he said.
Since its founding in 1987 Huawei has surged to become one of the world’s top manufacturers of network equipment, operating in 170 countries and expanding rapidly into consumer electronics such as smartphones.