Wednesday, June 28

UCLA athletes compete at NCAA outdoor track and field championships


UCLA had not sent so many athletes to the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships since 2004. There were 14 Bruins who competed, but first-place finishes evaded all of them. (Keila Mayberry/Daily Bruin staff)

UCLA had not sent so many athletes to the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships since 2004. There were 14 Bruins who competed, but first-place finishes evaded all of them. (Keila Mayberry/Daily Bruin staff)


The UCLA men haven’t had a runner finish atop the podium at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 17 years. But sophomore hurdler Rai Benjamin was a hair away from breaking that drought on Friday.

In what was an otherwise dismal finish to the 2017 season for the rest of the Bruins, the sophomore ran a milestone lifetime best of 48.33 seconds in the 400-meter hurdles finals, beating everyone in the entire country except for Florida’s Eric Futch, who bested Benjamin by .01 seconds.

“(The race) felt really good. Of course I wanted to win but the guys were really talented,” Benjamin said. “It took a lot, but I mean I really appreciate the outcome – No. 3 all-time and one of the top times in the world right now.”

The UCLA men haven’t had a runner finish atop the podium at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 17 years. But rising junior hurdler Rai Benjamin was a hair away from breaking that drought  June 9.

In what was an otherwise dismal finish to the 2017 season for the rest of the Bruins, Benjamin ran a milestone lifetime best of 48.33 seconds in the 400-meter hurdles finals, beating everyone in the country except Florida’s Eric Futch, who bested Benjamin by .01 seconds.

“(The race) felt really good. Of course I wanted to win but the guys were really talented,” Benjamin said. “It took a lot, but I mean I really appreciate the outcome – No. 3 all time and one of the top times in the world right now.”

Benjamin has been working toward this peak all year. He had already put himself at fifth on the UCLA all-time top 10 in the 400 hurdles earlier in the year at the Pac-12 outdoor track and field championship, and he has said he’s taken much from his sophomore season.

“The experience is always going to be there and it prepares you for bigger races down the line,” Benjamin said. “(This season) really helped me to put things in perspective and give me that extra edge.”

Benjamin was one of two individual sprinters entered for the Bruins, the other being junior Misana Viltz, who placed last in the 110-meter hurdles.

Benjamin joined rising senior Leon Powell, rising senior Eldridge Massington and outgoing senior Darnell Roberson in the 4×100 meter relay. 

They placed 22nd overall with a time of 39.89, more than half a second slower than the group’s PR.

Other individual runners were present, but were from UCLA’s distance team.

Rising senior Daniel De La Torre placed 14th in the men’s 5000 meters, coming in at 14:43.49. His captain, outgoing redshirt senior Austin O’Neil, ended his UCLA career in 15th in the 3000-meter steeplechase with a time of 8:49.52.

[Related: Altitude training lifts distance runner above competition in final year]

Rising junior Julia Rizk was one of just three women entered for the Bruins, and the only runner. She logged a 2:06.06 in the 800 meters, good enough for 15th.

Joining Rizk on the women’s side was rising redshirt junior thrower Ashlie Blake, who was entered in the women’s shot put. She too finished 15th overall, with a throw of 16.41 meters.

“It was a good experience. … The one big takeaway is not to let the pressure get the best of me,” Blake said. “I was having a good warmup but once the competition started I think I just tensed up a little too much and was a little bit too in the zone.”

Joining her on the field were rising sophomore javelin throwers Simon Litzell and Marian Spannowsky. Litzell reached a mark of 67.62 meters, putting him in 16th overall and his counterpart Spannowsky hit 64.90 meters, which put him in 23rd overall.

“It was OK. The atmosphere was great. I wish I had thrown a little further. Because, 64? That’s pretty bad,” Spannowsky said. “I want to keep working on what I did during practice. … Right now I’m focused on my meets in Germany and I hope I can throw further over there.”

UCLA sent more athletes to this final meet than it had in over a decade. But with the season over some of the team’s members are already looking forward to next year’s season.

“I know I can run a lot faster and this is just the beginning of something special,” Benjamin said. “Just have to keep striving to become better, you know?”

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