LoJo Breaks Barriers, Records In Pole Vault

Celebrating A Century of NCAA Track & Field Championships

LoJo Breaks Barriers, Records In Pole Vault

“LoJo” was just one of the nicknames Lawrence Johnson garnered while pole vaulting at Tennessee.

His teammates also called him “Black-ba, as in the Black Bubka,” Merrell Noden wrote in Sports Illustrated, referring to then-world record holder Sergey Bubka.

In 1995, Johnson became the first Black pole vaulter to win the event at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Then the following year, Johnson defended his title, a feat that has only happened eight times since 1960.

By any nickname, the native of Norfolk, Virginia, was a barrier- and record-breaking vaulter, whose 1996 NCAA title came with a meet record of 5.82m (19-1) that would last 22 years until Chris Nilsen of South Dakota broke it with a 5.83m (19-1½) clearance in 2018. The former Volunteer star’s margin of victory that year – 27 centimeters (10½ inches) – currently sits third all-time in meet history behind Nilsen (2019) and Bob Seagren (1969), who are tied at 28 cm (11 inches) each.

Johnson was the last male vaulter to set NCAA DI meet records both indoors and outdoors. He jumped 5.83m (19-1½) to win the NCAA title at the 1994 NCAA DI Indoor Championships prior to leaving his mark on the outdoor record book the following year. Johnson also previously owned both the indoor and outdoor collegiate records, the latter of which held strong for 23 years until Mondo Duplantis erased it last year.

As a prep athlete at Lake Taylor (Va.) High School, Johnson was steered toward the vault, because his team was loaded with hurdlers. Another story has it, though, that he was caught doing backflips off the bleachers in the gymnasium and the track coach at the time told him, “Boy! You are a pole vaulter if I ever saw one. I need you to come to the track today and try out this pole vault thing.”

Johnson did – and the rest was history.

“People kept saying, ‘He’s a Black pole vaulter. He won’t succeed,’” Johnson told Noden in that Sports Illustrated article. “I knew if I worked hard enough, I could do it. I watched ‘Rocky’ movies growing up.”

Johnson succeeded on the international stage as well. In 2000, Johnson earned Olympic silver at the Sydney Games to become the world’s first Black vaulter to reach the podium. A year later, Johnson won a world title at the World Indoor Championships in Lisbon, Portugal.

NOTE: Upon arriving at Tennessee, Johnson initially joined the Vols’ strong decathlon group and combined his initial love of hurdling, pole vaulting and eight other disciplines. True to form, Johnson excelled at that, winning the 1993 SEC title as a freshman with 7576 points, then the second best total by an American under the age of 20.

posted: July 23, 2020
1921-2021
The NCAA's First Championships

The NCAA and collegiate track & field will mark a momentous milestone in the spring of 2021 -- the 100th anniversary of the NCAA Championships and with that, the NCAA Track & Field Championships. In June 1921, the University of Chicago hosted the first track & field championships in NCAA history.

This point can’t be emphasized enough: Not only was the event the first for NCAA track & field, but the first championships for any sport under the sponsorship of the NCAA.

To celebrate, over each of the next 365 days, the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) will celebrate moments, student-athletes, and coaches that have made a century’s worth of championships special. From humble beginnings to important historical milestones to the modern-day, collegiate track & field has evolved with the American society.

The 2021 edition of the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships begin with preliminary round action on May 27-29 in Jacksonville, Fla., and College Station, Texas. The championships final site and culmination of the celebration is slated for June 9-12, 2021 at the newly rebuilt Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.

Memorable Moments
SMU’s Connor Bounds To Triple Jump Greatness
June 5, 1982

It’s been 38 years and still no one has broken the meet record Keith Connor of SMU set in the triple jump at the 1982 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Provo, Utah.

Wykoff Wins Stacked NCAA 100 Final
June 7, 1930

Frank Wykoff won a stacked 100-yard final at the 1930 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships that featured six current or former world record holders.

Liquori Is Mr. Sub-4 At NCAAs

Marty Liquori won three consecutive mile titles at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, all in sub-4 times.