Tommy Kono

Tommy Kono
Tommy Kono.jpg
Kono in 2015
Personal information
Birth nameTamio Kono
Born(1930-06-27)June 27, 1930
Sacramento, California, U.S.
DiedApril 24, 2016(2016-04-24) (aged 85)
Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.
Height167 cm (5 ft 6 in)[1]
Weight67–81 kg (148–179 lb)[1]
SportOlympic weightlifting
Event(s)Clean and press
Clean and jerk
Turned pro1952

Tamio "Tommy" Kono (June 27, 1930 – April 24, 2016) was a Japanese American weightlifter in the 1950s and 1960s. Kono set world records in four different weight classes:[2] lightweight (149 pounds or 67.5 kilograms), middleweight (165 lb or 75 kg), light-heavyweight (182 lb or 82.5 kg) and middle-heavyweight (198 lb or 90 kg).[3]

Early life

Kono was born in Sacramento, California, on June 27, 1930. His family was of Japanese descent and were interned at Tule Lake internment camp in 1942 during World War II.[4] Sickly as a child, the desert air helped Kono's asthma.[5] It was during the relocation that Kono was introduced to weightlifting by neighbors including Noboru "Dave" Shimoda, a member of the Tule Lake weightlifting and bodybuilding club and brother of actor Yuki Shimoda and his friends, Gotoh, Toda and Bob Nakanishi. After 3½ years they were released and Kono finished Sacramento High School. He later worked for the California Department of Motor Vehicles and attended Sacramento Junior College.[6]

Kono was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1950 but was kept home from the Korean War after officials learned of his Olympic potential.[7]


Kono was a gold medalist at both the 1952 Summer Olympics and 1956 Summer Olympics, and a silver medalist at the 1960 Summer Olympics under coach Bob Hoffman. Kono won the World Weightlifting Championships six consecutive times from 1953 to 1959 and was a three-time Pan American Games champion; in 1955, 1959, and 1963.[8] A knee injury prevented him from qualifying for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and the following year he retired from the sport.[4] He set a total of 26 world records and seven Olympic records, making him the most accomplished U.S. male weightlifter to date.[9][10]

Kono was also a successful bodybuilder, winning the Fédération Internationale Haltérophile et Culturiste Mr. Universe titles in 1954, 1955, 1957 and 1961.[11] After his retirement he turned to coaching, taking on the Mexican 1968 Summer Olympics and West German 1972 Summer Olympics weightlifting teams before becoming head coach of the United States' Olympic weightlifting team at the 1976 Summer Olympics.[4][9]

During his weightlifting career in the 1960s, he developed a pair of bands to support knees during training. These eventually extended to the elbows and became standard weightlifting equipment.[9] While he was coaching in West Germany during the 1970s, his correspondence with Adidas led to the firm's development of low cut weightlifting shoes.[12][13]


Along with his weightlifting and bodybuilding titles, Kono was an eight-time Amateur Athletic Union James E. Sullivan Award finalist, an award given annually to the top American amateur athlete.[14] He was also one of the first members of the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame in 1978.[15] In 1990, Kono received the Association of Oldetime Barbell and Strongmen Highest Achievement Award and was inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame.[16][17] He was elected to the International Weightlifting Federation Hall of Fame in 1993.[18] In 2005, the International Weightlifting Federation named Kono the "Lifter of the Century."[19]


Kono appeared in Universal Newsreel volume 32, number 63, August 6, 1959.[20] He is depicted as part of a mural located at 37 West Philadelphia Street in York, Pennsylvania. This mural was finished in 2000.[21]

Kono's life was featured in the documentary: "Arnold Knows Me: The Tommy Kono Story" that was released in the summer of 2016. The film first aired on KVIE (PBS) Sacramento and went on to air in more than 50 (PBS-affiliate) markets across the country.

Kono was depicted in a Google Doodle marking the anniversary of his birth in 2021.[22]


Kono died on April 24, 2016 in Honolulu, Hawaii from complications of liver disease, aged 85.[3] Survivors included his wife of 53 years, the former Florence Rodrigues of Honolulu, three children, and three grandchildren.[23]


  1. ^ a b "Tommy Kono". Sports Reference. Archived from the original on April 17, 2020. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  2. ^ "Sports Biographies: Kono, "Tommy" (Tami T.)". Hickok Sports. Archived from the original on May 26, 2013. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Olympic weightlifter Kono dies at 85". Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c Miyaguchi, Sean (December 4, 2015). "Olympic journey of American weightlifting legend Kono began in WWII internment camp". The Japan Times. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
  5. ^ Seip, Jim (April 30, 2016), "Greatest Olympic lifter found strength in York", York Daily Record
  6. ^ Svinth, Joseph R. (January 2000). "PT: Tommy Kono". Physical Training. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
  7. ^ Zaccardi, Nick (April 25, 2016). "Tommy Kono, Olympic weightlifting legend, dies at 85". NBC Sports. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
  8. ^ Scheuring, Ian (April 25, 2016). "Olympic gold medalist, legendary weightlifter Tommy Kono dies". Hawaii News Now. Retrieved April 25, 2016.
  9. ^ a b c "Two-Time Weightlifting Olympic Champion Tommy Kono Dies At 85". Team USA. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
  10. ^ Litsky, Frank (April 29, 2016). "Tommy Kono, Weight-Lifting Champion Raised in Internment Camp, Dies at 85". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 3, 2016.
  11. ^ "Mr. Universe Competition by FIHC". Retrieved April 26, 2016.
  12. ^ Schmitz, Jim (2014). "The Feet". IronMind. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
  13. ^ Heffernan, Conor (April 5, 2016). "The History of Weightlifting Shoes". Physical Culture Study. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
  14. ^ Atkin, Ross (March 8, 1996). "America's Outstanding Amateur". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
  15. ^ "Inductees by class". Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on July 20, 2015. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
  16. ^ "AOBS Highest Achievement (Vic Boff) Award Recipients". Association of Oldetime Barbell and Strongmen. Archived from the original on November 18, 2016. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
  17. ^ "Notable US Olympic Hall of Fame inductees". NBC Sports. Retrieved April 26, 2016.
  18. ^ "Weightlifting Hall of Fame". International Weightlifting Federation. Retrieved April 25, 2016.
  19. ^ Litsky, Frank (April 29, 2016), "Tommy Kono, Weight-Lifting Champion Raised in Internment Camp, Dies at 85", The New York Times
  20. ^ "One of the world's outstanding men with the barbell is Tommy Kono of Honolulu, an Olympian and winner of many international honors. He has a good grip on the middleweight crown, lifting a total of 905 pounds in three lifts."
  21. ^ McClure, James, ed. (2002). "Murals of York". York Daily Record. York, Pennsylvania.
  22. ^ Tamio "Tommy" Kono's 91st Birthday, Sunday, June 27, 2021 – Google. Retrieved June 27, 2021
  23. ^ "Tommy Kono, two-time Olympic champion weightlifter, dies at 85". The Washington Post. May 1, 2016. Retrieved June 30, 2021.


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