Florence Griffith Joyner, the fastest female sprinter in track and field history, suffocated during an epileptic seizure as she slept at her home in Mission Viejo, Calif., last month, officials said yesterday.

An autopsy found no indication of drug use in the death of the 38-year-old, three-time Olympic gold medalist, authorities said.

"In layman's terms, she suffocated," said Richard Fukumoto, chief of forensics for the Orange County sheriff-coroner department, at a news conference in California.

Fukumoto said Griffith Joyner apparently had been lying on her stomach and the seizure possibly caused her limbs to stiffen and turn her head to the right, where her breathing was constricted by covers and pillows.

The seizure involved a congenital blood vessel abnormality, officials said.

Barbara Zaias, an investigator with the coroner's office, said Griffith Joyner had a "cavernous angioma" on the front left part of her brain, a condition found in about 0.25 percent of the population. Some people with this condition live their lives without knowing they have it, while others have headaches and seizures, Zaias told the Associated Press.

The medical experts told reporters that the abnormality has never been associated with banned or illegal substances.

Toxicology tests showed that Griffith Joyner had taken one tablet each of the painkiller Tylenol and antihistamine Benadryl, but "there was nothing unusual in terms of drugs," said Frank Fitzpatrick, head of forensic sciences for the Orange County sheriff's office.

Investigators had been trying to determine the cause of Griffith Joyner's death since Sept. 21, when she was found "unresponsive" and "not breathing" in bed by her husband, Al Joyner.

The Joyner family issued a statement through its California attorney, Paul S. Meyer, in response to the autopsy findings.

"We thank the coroner's office for doing a thorough job and allowing us to bring closure to our tragic loss," the statement read. "The results of the investigation confirm the fact that Florence Griffith Joyner passed away from a congenital vascular malformation in her brain.

"There were no heart problems and there was no indication of any drug or steroid use, past and present," the statement continued. "Her remarkable achievements remain unspoiled. The family appreciates the tremendous outpouring of support and compassion. We, and all the world, will carry in our hearts a loving memory of this extraordinary woman."

A silver medalist at the 1984 Games, Griffith Joyner won gold medals in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4x100 relay at the 1988 Games. She also won a silver as the anchor leg of the 4x400 relay. She set world records in the 100 meters (10.49 seconds) and 200 meters (21.34) in the summer of 1988 that still stand.

There was speculation that Griffith Joyner used banned substances, but she denied ever using drugs and never failed a drug test.

Yesterday, in a statement, United States Olympic Committee President Bill Hybl said: "We now hope that this great Olympic champion, wife and mother can rest in peace, and that her millions of admirers around the world will celebrate her legacy to sport and children every day."

Hybl said, "It is time for the whispers and dark allegations to cease, and for us to move on with the dreams she shared for young girls and women in sport."

Known as "FloJo," Griffith Joyner captivated the world with her Olympic performances and her style. She was noted for her skin-tight track outfits and six-inch painted fingernails.

She was part of America's premier track and field family. Her husband won the 1984 Olympic gold medal in the triple jump. Her sister-in-law, Jackie Joyner Kersee, was a six-time Olympic medalist and heptathlon world record holder before retiring this year.

In 1989, Griffith Joyner announced her retirement. She tried in 1996 to resume her Olympic career in the marathon in the Atlanta Games. But she had problems with her Achilles' tendon and did not compete. At the time of her death, Griffith Joyner was involved with numerous charitable causes and had founded the Florence Griffith Youth Foundation, a nonprofit program for disadvantaged youth. In addition to her husband, survivors include a 7-year-old daughter, Mary Ruth Joyner. CAPTION: According to the coroner in Orange County, Calif., former Olympian Florence Griffith Joyner suffocated after suffering an epileptic seizure. ec