UCLA Athletics today announced plans to honor track and field legend and humanitarian Rafer Johnson, along with his wife, Betsy, by naming the track at Drake Stadium after the couple.
The Betsy and Rafer Johnson Track at Drake Stadium, the home of UCLA track and field, will be formally unveiled in a dedication ceremony on Friday, October 25, 2019 at 1 p.m. The ceremony is free and open to the public.
“As we look back across UCLA’s first 100 years and think about the people who helped shape this institution’s core values, Betsy and Rafer Johnson are among the first who come to mind,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “Their selfless efforts to inspire others and encourage opportunity for all perfectly embody UCLA’s mission. That’s why we are so proud to dedicate the Betsy and Rafer Johnson Track at Drake Stadium.”
Johnson, a two-time Olympic medalist who captured gold in the decathlon at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, began his UCLA track and field career in 1955 as the captain of the freshman team. In that same year, Johnson won a gold medal in the decathlon at the Pan American Games in Mexico City. He ran varsity track from 1956-58 and led the Bruins to their first-ever NCAA track and field championship in 1956 under head coach Elvin ‘Ducky’ Drake. Prior to helping UCLA win the national crown, Johnson won the Pacific Coast Conference title in the low hurdles en route to guiding the Bruins to the conference championship.
“It is such an honor to have the tracked named after us,” said Betsy and Rafer Johnson. “UCLA has always been a special part of our lives and the lives of our children, Jenny and Josh. We have been and will always be Bruins.”
While competing at UCLA, Johnson won a silver medal in the decathlon at the 1956 Olympic Games despite being handicapped by a knee injury and torn stomach muscle that kept him out of the broad jump portion of the competition. He reached the pinnacle of his Olympic achievements in 1960 as the USA team captain, flag-bearer (the first African-American to serve as such), and gold-medal winning decathlete. At the 1984 Olympic Games, Johnson was selected to light the Olympic cauldron at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Johnson served as UCLA student body president in 1959.