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Highlighting UCLA’s former female Olympians: athletes and trailblazers

A trophy commemorating Jackie Joyner-Kersee stands in the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame. Joyner-Kersee, a UCLA track and field and women’s basketball alumnus, is a three-time Olympic champion. (Nicolas Greamo/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Felicia Keller, Ira Gorawara, Cecilia Schmitz, and Alexis Hinkle

Jan. 17, 2024 11:49 p.m.

UCLA Athletics has produced 410 Olympic athletes in addition to coaches and other various staff. The 2020 Olympics had Bruins pick up 16 medals, adding to an overall count of 136 gold, 71 silver and 63 bronze medals. Before that count likely increases at the 2024 Paris Games, Daily Bruin Sports is highlighting some of the women involved in those medals.

Ann Meyers Drysdale
Ira Gorawara, assistant Sports editor

In 1979, 24-year-old Ann Meyers Drysdale took a shot at becoming the first woman in the NBA.

It was a preposterous-sounding feat to most. But Drysdale made it happen.

It only made sense. Drysdale was a woman of firsts – the first high school player to secure a national team spot, the first woman to receive a full athletic scholarship from UCLA, the first player drafted to the Women’s Basketball League, the first four-time All-American, the first NCAA Division I player to record a quadruple-double and on Sept. 5, 1979, the first woman to sign an NBA contract.

This year marks 50 since Westwood first laid eyes on Ann Meyers Drysdale, better referred to as a “Pac-12 Living Legend.” Just two years after commencing her UCLA career, Drysdale was named a member of Team USA for the 1976 Montreal Games.

On what was the first USA Women’s Olympic Team, Drysdale competed under Billie Moore, who would later become her coach at UCLA. Alongside fellow collegiate Hall of Famers Lusia Harris and Nancy Lieberman, Drysdale helped the United States secure a silver medal after winning three of five round-robin games.

Meyers contributed nine points and a team-high five assists per game across the tournament. The U.S.’ boundary-breaking victory against then-Czechoslovakia in the silver medal match commenced an entirely new epoch for women’s sports in the U.S.

Very few stand as luminaries in the U.S. women’s basketball landscape, but Drysdale’s status is indisputable.

Florence Griffith-Joyner
Alexis Hinkle, assistant Sports editor

Thirty-six years later, Florence Griffth-Joyner still holds her records.

Widely known as “Flo Jo,” she set the record for both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints at the 1988 Seoul Games.

The UCLA alumnus, who graduated in 1983, garnered accolades before making a name for herself internationally.

Griffth-Joyner won the Jesse Owens National Youth Games two years in a row and competed throughout high school in Los Angeles. She then attended Cal State Northridge before transferring to UCLA.

In her two years as a Bruin, she won the NCAA national championships in the 200-meter and 400-meter events in 1982 and 1983, respectively. Her collegiate records marked the beginning of her groundbreaking career.

Griffith-Joyner qualified for the 1984 LA Games after graduating from college. In her Olympic debut, she won a silver medal in the 200-meter event.

And not only did she earn a medal, but “Flo Jo” introduced herself on the national stage with fashionable style, jewelry and long nails – something people had never seen before.

But she didn’t stop there.

Four years later, at the next Olympics in Seoul, Griffth-Joyner was named the fastest woman in the world, when she ran 10.49 seconds in the 100-meter and 21.34 seconds in the 200-meter events.

Not only did she transform the realm of track and field, but she left a mark on the world of women in sports by embodying excellence in every facet.

Tairia Flowers
Felicia Keller, assistant Sports editor

Many UCLA athletes step into the coaching sphere when their time on the field comes to a close.

But few are part of medal-winning teams at both levels.

Tairia Mims Flowers is one of those rare individuals.

Flowers won softball gold for Team USA in 2004 and then silver in 2008 after a record-filled time as a Bruin that featured a 2003 national championship and a spot on the Pac-12 All-Century Team.

She has the second most games played, is top 10 in 11 different single-season records and her 61 career home runs puts her third all-time in program history.

Now, she’s a UCLA Hall of Fame inductee, head coach at Loyola Marymount and an assistant coach for Team USA.

While coaches are not awarded medals, she was in the dugout for the U.S. when it won silver at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

In 2023, LMU was West Coast Conference champion, earning its fourth NCAA Tournament bid in program history and second of Flowers’ tenure.

Flowers represents a unique class of Bruins that excel at both the athlete and coaching level, but it’s her contributions internationally that have had a lasting impact on the sport of softball.

Karsta Lowe
Ira Gorawara, assistant Sports editor

Karsta Lowe’s volleyball career seldom disappointed.

Before her Bruin tenure began, the outside hitter was named San Diego Section All-CIF, All-Avocado League, San Diego Union Tribune Athlete of the Week and All-Academic First Team in her senior year of high school, alongside marshaling her squad to a CIF Division I title.

After winning a national championship her freshman season at UCLA, Lowe earned a spot on the Bruin leaderboards her second time around, closing out the year with the team’s third-highest kill per set total.

An array of All-Tournament selections and repeated double-digit kill performances handed Lowe an AVCA All-America Honorable Mention, AVCA All-Pacific South Region First Team and All-Pac-12 First Team recognition by the year’s culmination – accolades that she would go on to repeat in her final year with the Bruins.

Lowe earned a call-up to Team USA for the 2016 Rio Games after her efforts as the nation’s leader in kills and points in 2014. Her veteran season featured 32 double-figure kill exhibitions and eight double-double showcases.

And once again, Lowe did anything but deter from her symphony of success.

Victory in seven of its eight matches, including a flawless 5-0 record in pool play, granted the U.S. a berth in the bronze medal contest against the Netherlands, where the U.S would claim a podium spot. Lowe tallied 38 kills, two aces and one block through eight affairs, including a 13-kill display in the semifinals.

Between being a burgeoning sensation in San Diego to an Olympic champion, Lowe’s volleyball harmony faced no discord.

Jessie Fleming
Cecilia Schmitz, assistant Sports editor

UCLA women’s soccer has no shortage of players who go on to excel on the international stage.

From Lauren Cheney Holiday to Sam Mewis to Ashley Sanchez, the Bruins have supplied plenty of Team USA members. And Canada has a former UCLA star of its own who contributed to two Olympic medal runs.

Former UCLA women’s soccer midfielder Jessie Fleming made a name for herself in international soccer before even arriving on campus, when she competed for Canada in the 2015 World Cup, one year before her freshman season.

Fleming also contributed her talents in the 2019 and 2023 World Cups, playing every minute of Canada’s games in 2019.

Her Olympic experience further solidifies her position as one of UCLA’s most talented athletes.

Competing for Canada in the 2016 Rio Games, Fleming contributed to a bronze-medal winning performance, adding to UCLA’s official Olympic medal count.

In the 2020 Tokyo Games, she truly shined.

Competing against the FIFA No. 1 ranked U.S. in the semifinal game, Fleming stepped up to the plate and scored a penalty kick to send Canada to the championship match.

She furthered her performance in the final – scoring another penalty to equalize against Sweden and sending the game to overtime. Eventually in penalty kicks, Canada won 3-2 to secure its first-ever gold medal in women’s soccer.

Already a stalwart for Canada before even arriving to college soccer, Fleming has made her mark in the soccer world and Olympic history.

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Felicia Keller
Keller is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men’s soccer, swim and dive, women’s water polo, and softball beats. She was previously a contributor on the swim and dive and women’s water polo beats and a contributor in the News and Photo sections. She is also a second-year sociology student.
Keller is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men’s soccer, swim and dive, women’s water polo, and softball beats. She was previously a contributor on the swim and dive and women’s water polo beats and a contributor in the News and Photo sections. She is also a second-year sociology student.
Ira Gorawara | Assistant Sports editor
Gorawara is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, men's tennis and rowing beats and is a Copy contributor. She was previously a reporter on the men's volleyball and rowing beats. She is also a second-year communication and economics student.
Gorawara is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men's volleyball, women's volleyball, men's tennis and rowing beats and is a Copy contributor. She was previously a reporter on the men's volleyball and rowing beats. She is also a second-year communication and economics student.
Cecilia Schmitz | Assistant Sports editor
Schmitz is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the women’s soccer, beach volleyball, women’s golf and cross country beats. She was previously a contributor on the women’s soccer and beach volleyball beats and a staffer for the Outreach section. She is also a third-year political science and communication student.
Schmitz is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the women’s soccer, beach volleyball, women’s golf and cross country beats. She was previously a contributor on the women’s soccer and beach volleyball beats and a staffer for the Outreach section. She is also a third-year political science and communication student.
Hinkle is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, women's tennis, men's golf and track and field beats. She was previously a reporter on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats. She is also a second-year sociology student.
Hinkle is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, women's tennis, men's golf and track and field beats. She was previously a reporter on the women's basketball and beach volleyball beats. She is also a second-year sociology student.
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