EL PASO, Texas - Mikka Laaksonen never expected to stick El Paso after he wrapped up a stellar track and field career at UTEP in 1993. Especially since in the years following, he competed in the 1994 European Championships and the 1995 World Championships as a weight and hammer throw field athlete.
But returned to El Paso as a track and field assistant for the Miners in 1999, and here he is as the head coach in 2021.
Now in his 11th season running the UTEP track and field program, Laaksonen has taken the program to the top of the Conference USA.
Under his watch, the Miners have been crowned Conference USA Championships on seven occasions. The Miner men claimed the 2013 outdoor title, following with the 2014 indoor championship. The ladies won the 2017 and 2019 outdoor titles, while the women also claimed the 2015, 2016 and 2017 indoor C-USA first-place trophies.
This 2021 outdoor season has proved to be possibly the toughest yet, given the COVID restrictions that shut down last year's season.
For the most part, the team has kind of gotten things going right now," says Laaksonen of the 2021 squad.
"But we still have maybe 50-40% of individuals trying to find their way. So when we sat out the indoor season and weren't able to compete last year outdoors, we didn't get much practice in during that time," he adds of the shutdown.
"And the we had another shutdown in November and it's been pretty tough to get things going in that time. But we're really happy to be at it."
The Miners are coming off a great performance at last week's Roadrunner Invitational at UTSA, where the women's and men's 4x100m relay teams all won gold medals.
In particular, Maribel Caicedo claimed gold for the first time during the season in the 100m hurdles, clocking in a 13.51w (4.0). For her performance, Caicedo was named C-USA Track and Field Athlete of the Week.
This weekend, UTEP track and field team will travel up I-25 to the University of New Mexico to compete at the Don Kirby Tailwind Open on Thursday, April 22 at UNM Track Stadium.
Catch the full length interview with Coach Laaksonen on the ABC-7 Coaches Show sponsored by Speaking Rock.
Miners’ C-USA Rankings
1st: Denae McFarlane – 100m (11.60)
1st: Maribel Caicedo – 100m hurdles (13.51)
1st: Men’s 4x400 (3:05.84)
2nd: Jevaughn Powell – 200m (20.92)
2nd: Men’s 4x100m (40.54)
2nd: Roosa Yloenen – Javelin (53.37m)
3rd: Chevannie Hanson – 400m (46.62)
3rd: Ruth Jerubet – 1500m (4:33.29)
3rd: Shakeem Smith – 110m hurdles (14.00)
3rd: Aleks Hristov – discus (55.40m)
4th: Dennis Johnson – 100m (10.35)
4th: Paulo Benavides – pole vault (5.10m)