Students + Campus

23 highlights of UCLA’s Olympic glory

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There has been a Bruin in every Summer Olympics since 1920, with the exception of 1924. In all, more than 400 Bruins have participated as athletes and coaches in the Summer Games, winning 253 medals: 128 gold, 65 silver and 60 bronze. As 36 Bruins get ready to compete in Rio, we also look back at some other very cool UCLA Olympic connections.

 

1. 1932 Olympics

UCLA

No one believed Los Angeles would make good on its promise to host the 10th Summer Olympics at the height of the Great Depression. And in 1932, UCLA had just moved to its new Westwood campus. But they pulled it off. Here, India’s gold-medal-winning men’s field hockey team practiced on campus. That’s Royce Hall and Powell Library in the background.

 

2. Florence Griffith Joyner

UCLA Athletics

Gold medal-winning sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner, who attended UCLA in the early 80s, is remembered almost as much for her sense of style as she is for shattering world records. Griffith Joyner won a silver medal in the 200 meters during the 1984 games here in Los Angeles and dominated in 1988 in Seoul, winning gold in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 400-meter relay events and silver in the 100-meter relay. Her records remain untouched.

 

3. Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson
UCLA

The Olympian who wasn’t. At UCLA, Jackie Robinson was the first person to letter in four varsity sports in a single year and he later famously broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. He was selected for the 1940 Olympics as a long jumper, but they were cancelled due to World War II.

 

4. Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Jackie Joyner Kersee Foundation

A 1986 graduate, Jackie Joyner-Kersee is considered one of America’s greatest Olympians, having won three gold medals, one silver and two bronze medals over four Olympics. Joyner-Kersee set a world record in the heptathlon, scoring 7,291 points, when she won gold at the Summer Olympics in 1988. She won a silver medal in the event in 1984. Joyner-Kersee’s coach and husband, Bob Kersee, also trained her sister-in-law, the late Florence Griffith Joyner.

 

5. Karch Kiraly

After a stellar Olympic career as an athlete — he won gold three times (indoor volleyball in 1984, 1988, beach volleyball in 1996) — Karch Kiraly has found success coaching the U.S. women’s volleyball team. With Kiraly, who graduated from UCLA 1983, as head coach and UCLA alumna Karsta Lowe on the roster, the team enters Rio ranked no. 1 in the world.

 

6. U.S. women’s soccer

Lauren Holiday, Sydney Leroux and Carli Lloyd of USA Soccer
U.S. Soccer

UCLA Bruins have played a big role on every U.S. women’s soccer team at the Olympics and now head into Rio having won gold three straight times. Former Bruins Lauren Cheney Holiday and former head coach Jillian Ellis (now U.S. head coach), and Sydney Leroux competed in London in 2012. This year, incoming freshman Mallory Pugh is likely to start. Alumna Samantha Mewis is on the roster as an alternate.

 

7. 1984, the year of U.S. gymnastics

Mitch Gaylord
USA Gymnastics

In 1984, more than 160,000 spectators came to Pauley Pavilion to watch gymnastics. Then-UCLA student Mitch Gaylord was the first American gymnast to score a perfect 10 in the Olympics (on the rings). He won four medals overall. On the horizontal bar, he pulled off his signature “Gaylord II,” considered one of the hardest moves in men’s gymnastics. Gaylord’s teammate Peter Vidmar, also a UCLA alumnus, won two golds and a silver. And Pauley is where Mary Lou Retton became the first American gymanst to win the all-around gold.

 

8. UCLA Bruin Marching Band

UCLA Marching Band

The UCLA Marching Band actually had to audition to take part in the opening and closing ceremonies in 1984. 35 band members also performed at venues across Los Angeles for individual events. Back then, current band director Gordon Henderson was an assistant director.

 

9. Meb Keflezighi

At 41, Meb Keflezighi is competing on his fourth Olympic team and remains UCLA’s most accomplished distance runner. Keflezighi won the silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, becoming the first American male to win an Olympic medal in the marathon since Frank Shorter took silver in 1976. He won the New York City Marathon in 2009. And in 2014, one year after the bombings, he became the first American man to win the Boston Marathon in 31 years when he broke the tape “for one of the most poignant victories in the history of sports,” in the words of the marathon trials organizers.

 

10. Rafer Johnson

Los Angeles Public Library/Herald Examiner Collection

Rafer Johnson, who chose UCLA because of the school’s long history with athletes of color, was a two-time Olympian decathlete, winning silver in 1956 and gold in 1960 at the Rome Olympics. Johnson carried torch on its final leg for the 1984 Olympics opening ceremonies, lighting the torch to begin the games.

 

11. Chuan-Kwang (“C.K.”) Yang

CK Yang Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated

Known as the “Iron Man of Asia,” Chuan-Kwang Yang competed against former UCLA teammate Rafer Johnson in the decathlon during the 1960 Olympics. The contest between Yang, competing for Taiwan, and Johnson, went down to the final event with Yang winning silver and his close friend Johnson taking gold.

 

12. Ducky Drake

Rafer Johnson, "Ducky" Drake and C.K. Yang
UCLA

UCLA track coach Ducky Drake, for whom Drake Stadium is named, served as a coach for the U.S. track and field teams during four Olympics. During the 1960 games, Rafer Johnson and C.K. Yang took turns consulting him on strategy during decathlon events.

 

13. Special Olympics

Christelle Snow/UCLA

In 2015, UCLA hosted the Special Olympics, which were co-founded by Rafer Johnson in 1968. Johnson received the UCLA Medal, the university’s highest honor, in recognition of his decades of leadership in the Special Olympics and unwavering efforts supporting equality for all.

 

14. Michelle Kwan

CC-By-SA-3.0

A two-time Olympic medalist (1998 and 2002), figure skater Michelle Kwan is the most-decorated figure skater in U.S. history. While attending UCLA she studied American literature.

 

15. Mike Burton

USA Swimming

Mike Burton, who met his wife while both were swimmers for UCLA in 1965, won three gold medals as a swimmer. In 1968, “Iron Mike” won gold in the 400 and 1,500 meter freestyle in Mexico City and was the first man in history to defend his title in the 1,500 meter freestyle four years later in Munich.

 

16. UCLA as Olympic Village in 1984

1984 Olympic Village
UCLA

For the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games athletes trained in both UCLA gyms, the new John Wooden Center, Sunset Canyon Recreation Center and Drake Stadium; ABC television took over Spaulding Field, Ackerman Union housed the press corps, and the new Peter V. Ueberroth building on Le Conte Avenue opened as the Los Angeles organizing committee’s headquarters (transferred to UCLA in 1985). The Olympic Organizing Committee commandeered the ground floor of the James West Alumni Center, which served as the official entryway to the Olympic Village.

 

17. Dave and Mark Schultz

Dave and Mark Schultz
markschultz.com

Brothers Dave and Mark Schultz were both Olympic and world champion freestyle wrestlers who attended UCLA together in 1979. Their story was the subject of the critically acclaimed 2014 film, “Foxcatcher.”

 

18. U.S. women’s basketball

UCLA

Five Bruins have been part of women’s Olympic basketball teams, including two members of the silver-medal-winning 1976 team, UCLA legend Ann Meyers Drysdale, who played, and Billie Moore, who coached.

 

19. U.S. women’s water polo

UCLA

After winning bronze in 2004, former Bruin player and coach Adam Krikorian guided the U.S. women’s water polo team to its first gold medal in 2012. Four-time NCAA champions Kelly Rulon and Courtney Mathewson were key players for the United States. This year, Bruins on the U.S. roster include alums Mathewson, KK Clark and Sami Hill, current student Rachel Fattal and incoming freshman Maddie Musselman.

 

20. U.S. men’s basketball

UCLA Athletics

Dating back to 1936 when five Bruins were on the team, UCLA has played a prominent role with men’s basketball. More than a dozen Bruins have played or coached for the Olympic team, including luminaries like Walt Hazzard, Reggie Miller, Steve Alford, Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook.

 

21. James LuValle

Of the five Black alumni whose names appear on campus buildings, James LuValle is perhaps the least well known. LuValle (on the right) competed in track in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, winning bronze in the 400 meters. Not your average student athlete, LuValle founded what is now UCLA’s Graduate Student Association while he was earning his masters in chemistry and physics. He shrugged off his nickname, “the Westwood Whirlwind,” telling people “Just call me Jimmy” — the reason why LuValle’s coffee shop is called “Jimmy’s.”

 

22. The UCLA Vanpool

UCLA Daily Bruin

Surprised? Yes, there is an Olympic connection. Hoping to reduce traffic and pollution during the 1984 Summer Olympics, UCLA launched its vanpool program. Now, UCLA’s commuting programs and incentives are among the country’s leaders as a way for riders to reduce pollution and traffic while saving money.

 

23. The 2024 Summer Olympics?

Christelle Snow/UCLA

UCLA has been selected as the site for the Olympic Village in the city of Los Angeles’ bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. A team from the organizing committee hosted International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach [second from left] last year. UCLA would house all of the athletes, as well as serving as the venue for competitions in basketball, water polo and field hockey.

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