During their time at UCLA, Rafer Johnson & CK Yang were great friends. Yang, a native of Taiwan, came to UCLA in 1959, speaking almost no English. Their relationship was predicated on mutual respect and admiration. Yang was a born track star; during his time at UCLA, he broke the indoor world pole vaulting record. Johnson excelled in the throwing disciplines. They taught each other a great deal both on and off the track, and under the wings of UCLA coach Elvin “Ducky” Drake, both Johnson and Yang grew into tremendous athletes ready to compete on the global stage.
Leaving the cinder track of UCLA behind, Johnson and Yang traveled to Rome to compete in the 1960 Summer Olympics. Johnson represented the United States of America, carrying the flag in the opening ceremony. Yang competed for Taiwan, hoping to bring gold to his homeland. It was by chance that the two close friends landed in the same heat. Over the course of the ten events, Yang excelled in almost every one. But Johnson wasn’t far behind, and his dominance in the throwing events put him in a good position. Going into the final heat, the gold was Johnson’s to lose. In order to pull ahead, Yang needed to win by 10 seconds in the 1500 meter race. After nearly 5 grueling minutes, Johnson finished 1.2 seconds behind Yang, sealing his victory.
Though he won seven of the ten events, Yang took home the silver medal that year, earning Taiwan its first ever Olympic medal. Johnson stood on the podium next to his friend, having earned his gold medal through ten brutal heats. Their time at UCLA bound them together in friendship, in spite of having to compete against one another that year. CK Yang graduated from UCLA in 1964, in no small part due to Rafer Johnson helping him learn English on his arrival. In his later life, Yang split his time between Taiwan and Los Angeles, and Johnson was always the first person he called when he returned to the states until his death in 2007. When asked to recall the 1960 Olympics, Johnson first and foremost mentions how their close friendship never waned.