For UCLA track and field, the beginning of the outdoor season is about getting its competitive edge back by competing against some of the top athletes in the nation.
Fittingly, the UCLA men and women’s track and field teams will be honoring two of track and field’s most respected athletes in the third annual Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner-Kersee Invitational, which begins today at Drake Stadium.
Both Johnson and Joyner-Kersee are former UCLA athletes as well as former Olympic medalists, having each earned a number of gold and silver medals in their respective events during their years in the Olympics.
Joyner-Kersee was even named the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated for Women and Johnson was chosen to ignite the Olympic flame during the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Another prospective Olympian, three-time All-American sophomore Alec Faldermeyer, is excited to be competing this weekend after having an impressive past couple of weeks, winning his event last week by almost 20 feet.
“This weekend, I finally have some really good competition, so I really just want to go out and just get my competitive edge back,” Faldermeyer said.
Faldermeyer has some extra motivation because his father will be coming out from New York to watch his competition.
“It’s the first time he’s going to see me throw in a while,” Faldermeyer said. “So I’m really excited about that and I’m hoping to get some big throws.”
Sophomore Mike Woepse is on the other end of the spectrum. Woepse is currently ranked second in the NCAA for the pole vault but is hoping to come back from a disappointing performance where he no-heighted, failing to clear the bar in three attempts.
“Last week was a really good week for training.” Woepse said. “There should be a lot of competition, so it’ll be a fun meet.”
Today will also mark the first competition for the woman heptathletes.
Representing UCLA will be freshman heptathlete Tatum Souza, who has been performing consistently in her first college outdoor track and field season.
All-American sophomore thrower Ida Storm, ranked fifth in the NCAA in the hammer, is enthusiastic about this meet, hoping to overthrow her competitors as she attempts to climb the rankings.
“I’m feeling good about this weekend,” Storm said. “I’m really excited that there are a lot of good throwers coming out and I’m hoping to keep improving and just have fun.”
The Bruin men and women will also be competing against many collegiate teams, including Azusa Pacific, BYU, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Cal State L.A., Cal State Northridge, Laney College, San Francisco, San Francisco State and UC Riverside.