UCLA Spotlight




Rafer Johnson — Olympic gold medalist and UCLA dad

  • By Mike Padilla
  • Published Oct 1, 2005 8:00 AM
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Rafer Johnson '59, with daughter Jenny '96 and wife Betsy '66, appeared on the cover of the Fall 1996 Bearwear Catalog. (Son Joshua graduated in '98.)
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UCLA continues to produce more than its fair share of stellar athletes, from Olympians to quarterbacks to Hall of Famers. But few athletes give back to UCLA in as many ways as Rafer Johnson '59. For more than 40 years the Olympic gold medalist and former decathlete has lent his voice and stature to countless university events and volunteered on numerous university boards and committees.

This month, when Johnson speaks at UCLA Parents' Weekend 2005, he will be speaking as a parent.

Parents' Weekend, October 28–30, is a three-day celebration designed so that parents and students can experience campus life together through such activities as dean and faculty presentations, meals and events with Chancellor and Mrs. Albert Carnesale, tours and workshops, and even a Virtual Tailgate Party where parents and students can cheer the Bruins on the Jumbotron as they battle Stanford.

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(From left) Rafer Johnson '59, coach Ducky Drake, and UCLA classmate Yang Chuan-Kwang
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As the parent of two former UCLA students, Jennifer '96 and Joshua '98, Johnson feels a connection with other UCLA parents, and wants them to rest assured that the university will provide their children with an excellent education. "This is an institution that produces greatness," he says, "not only in its student body, but in what it provides the community. Parents can expect UCLA to bring out the very best in their students."

Johnson, a member of both the National Track and Field and the U.S. Olympic Halls of Fame, is best known for winning the gold medal in the decathlon during the 1960 Olympics in Rome, edging out UCLA classmate Yang Chuan-Kwang, who represented Taiwan, in the 1500 meters. Johnson will be speaking about his experiences as an athlete, an alumnus, and a UCLA parent at the Where Wooden Walked reception, a Parents' Weekend event celebrating the legacy of legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden.

At UCLA, Johnson played basketball under Wooden, an experience that influenced much of the rest of his life. Says Johnson, "Many of the things that I've accomplished beyond my years at UCLA, including my relationship with my family and friends and the fact that I'm very much interested in giving back to the community, have a great deal to do with what I learned from coach Wooden."

Johnson hopes to convey to other Bruin parents the range of opportunities available to their children. "When I was first considering UCLA as a high school senior," he explains, "I was impressed by the accomplishments of the men and women who had gone there, including people like Jackie Robinson and Ralph Bunche. As a student, then later as a parent, I continued to be impressed by what UCLA encourages people to achieve. This leads me to want to give back to UCLA."