USC men’s stars shine, but UCLA sweeps dual track meet
USC’s Bryshon Nellum and Aaron Brown were the men’s individual stars Saturday at the USC-UCLA dual track meet at Loker Stadium.
Nellum won the 200-meter dash, something new for the 2012 Olympian, in a time of 20.37 seconds, and he won the 400, his specialty, in 46.26. Aaron Brown won the 100 in 10.24 and led the 400 relay team to a win over UCLA in 40.18 seconds.
And yet it was UCLA taking a long, arm-raising, fist-pumping victory lap at the opponent’s track. The Bruins’ women broke a five-meet losing streak with a 90-73 victory and the Bruins’ men won, 85-78.
The final men’s relay didn’t even matter, as UCLA’s Dillon Stucky clinched the men’s title by winning the triple jump.
UCLA’s charismatic senior Turquoise Thompson won the 400-meter dash and then, after about 30 minutes of rest in the shade, she came back and won the 400 hurdles. Thompson competes though she suffers from the sickle cell trait, a blood disease that in the U.S. is most prevalent among African Americans.
Thompson said she was asked Friday by her coaches to do the double. “They asked me if I’d be willing,” Thompson said. “They said they needed me. I said, ‘Whatever it takes.’ It was a mental hurdle for me.”
Johnny Gray, UCLA’s middle-distance coach, said he asked Thompson to do the extra racing, partly to help Thompson get over stressing about her disease. “Not every ache or pain is because of the sickle cell,” Gray said. “At this level everybody hurts.”
Thompson, whose fingernails were brightly painted in UCLA yellow and blue and whose ears sparkle with eight earrings, also has her right wrist tattooed with a bow. She said that is because every human being is a gift from God. She also has the five Olympic rings engraved on her wrist because that’s her ultimate goal.
This is the first year at UCLA that Thompson, who is from Lakewood and who graduated from Serra High in Gardena, said she has felt healthy and in control of her sickle cell.
“Before, I’d have major problems with cramping,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot about proper hydration, proper vitamins. It’s under control.”
USC star football receiver Marqise Lee, who practiced for only a week, finished third in the long jump, won by UCLA’s Michael Perry. Lee jumped just over 24 feet and hopes, after more working out, that he might hit 26 feet this year.
When Thompson was younger, she said, she used to run the 400. “But that got boring,” Thompson said, “so I changed to the hurdles.”
It was at UCLA, where the training is tough, that she began to be bothered by sickle cell. “I couldn’t do those fast sprints, 16 100s with 30 seconds of rest,” she said.
Gray, who has never coached an athlete with sickle cell, said Thompson is not overrating herself with that Olympic rings tattoo.
“She has a lot more in her to come,” said Gray, who, as a four-time Olympian, should know.
For the record: An earlier version of this story said UCLA’s Turquoise Thompson went to Serra High in San Juan Capistrano. Thompson went to Serra High in Gardena.
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