Kono Tommy Tamio life and biography

Kono Tommy Tamio picture, image, poster

Kono Tommy Tamio biography

Date of birth : 1930-06-27
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Sacramento, California, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Sports
Last modified : 2010-07-06
Credited as : Athlete and weightlifter, ,

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Kono, Tommy Tamio born June 27, 1930 in Sacramento, California, United States is an American-Japanese athlete and an amateur weightlifter who, as Olympic and world champion from 1952 to 1959, is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest strength athletes of all time.

Kono was the youngest of four sons of Kanichi Kono and Ichimi Ohata, both of whom worked in a Sacramento fruit cannery. Afflicted with asthma, Tommy weighed only seventy-four pounds at age eleven and missed a third of his schooling owing to illness. When his family was moved with other Japanese Americans during World War II to the Tule Lake Detention Camp in June 1942 in California, Kono discovered that the desert air relieved his breathing. By this time he had learned about bodybuilding from a Charles Atlas "ninety-seven-pound weakling" advertisement, and two Nisei (a person born and raised in the United States whose parents came from Japan) friends, Ben Hara and Tad Fujioka, assured him that a regular weight-training program would make him big and strong. Aboard a Greyhound bus, the family left the detention camp and returned to Sacramento on 3 December 1945.

Initially only able to bench press sixty-five pounds, Kono soon overcame his weakness and, as a high school senior in Sacramento, entered his first competition in 1948 in San Jose, California. He placed second as a lightweight with a 175-pound press, 185-pound snatch, and a 225-pound clean-and-jerk. Employing a routine of heavy squats for high repetitions, Kono quickly improved his basic strength. In 1949 he became Pacific Coast champion and won the outstanding lifter award, and in his first senior nationals in 1950 in Philadelphia, he nearly upset reigning champion Joe Pitman.

Kono was inducted into the U.S. Army in 1952 and sent to Camp Stillman in California in preparation to enter the Korean War. Friends who knew of his skill intervened, however, and he was transferred to Fort Mason in San Francisco so he could be near Oakland, then the center of American weightlifting. The army paid for his training, and at the Olympics held in Helsinki in 1952 he achieved a world-record 259-pound snatch on his way to winning a gold medal in the lightweight class. Kono moved to Hawaii in 1955, and during the next several years, under the guidance of physician Richard You, he dominated the middling classes in world competition. As a middleweight, he won world championships in 1953, 1957, 1958, and 1959, and a silver medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. As a light heavyweight, he captured world titles in 1954 and 1955, and a gold medal in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne with a world record 986-pound (three-lift) total. Always the linchpin for American teams in the 1950s, Kono excelled as a clutch performer.

An essential ingredient to Kono's success, derived from training alone in the basement of his home in his early years, was his ability to concentrate. Weightlifting, he contends, is possibly the closest of all the sports to Zen—a form of Buddhism involving an intense state of meditation rather than adherence to scripture or doctrine. Complete mastery of mind over body enabled him to lift very heavy weights when it counted most. Nowhere was this trait more evident than during his later career. Though plagued by knee injuries, he set world records in the press in 1961 in competitions in Moscow and Tokyo and held off a determined effort by Louisiana champion Lou Riecke to upset him at the national championships in the same year. In one of the most memorable moments in the annals of American weightlifting, Kono again beat Riecke with a superhuman 375-pound clean-and-jerk at the 1963 senior nationals, thereby earning him the best lifter award for the seventh time. For Kono, however, the most dramatic moment of his career was his victory at the 1957 world championships in Tehran. After twice failing to clear 358 pounds, he "shook, shivered, and quivered" under his final attempt in the clean-and-jerk to defeat his Russian adversary, Fyodor Bogdanovsky, on bodyweight. With only a skeleton American contingent present, he was seized by elated Iranians who carried him off the platform, almost as if he was their national hero.

By the time of his retirement in 1965, Kono had become an enduring icon in national and international lifting circles. He officially established seven Olympic, thirty-seven American, eight Pan American, and twenty-six world records. Extremely versatile, he is the only weightlifter to win medals in three different Olympiads in three different weight classes. He is also the only lifter to set world records in four separate weight classifications. Though known chiefly for his mental lifting and mastery of technique, Kono's feats of raw strength were prodigious. At a bodyweight of 152, he performed six sets of squats with 340 pounds for twelve repetitions in less than a half-hour. As a light heavyweight he did a front squat with 451 pounds and pressed a pair of 112.5-pound dumbbells for ten repetitions. Though standards in the press were becoming increasingly lax in the late 1950s, Kono displayed real strength by executing this lift in relatively strict style and continuing to set world records in it. By no means the least significant aspect of his accomplishments is that they preceded the introduction of anabolic steroids into the sport.

Kono always exuded a quiet and unassuming demeanor. He kept a cool head and was extremely helpful to teammates during training and competition. He repeatedly captained American teams abroad and, as a photography buff, frequently took pictures at meets. Kono, who believed that brides and barbells do not mix, delayed marriage until 4 May 1962. He met his wife, Florence Rodrigues, in December 1956, and they had three children. Following retirement from competition, Kono served as national weightlifting coach for Mexico, West Germany, and the United States for the 1968, 1972, and 1976 Olympics, respectively, and from 1987 until 1989 he coached the U.S. Women's World Team. During the 1980s and 1990s he worked for the city and county of Honolulu, Hawaii, as a recreation specialist. He also continued to officiate at national and international competitions, to serve on the board of the U.S. Weightlifting Federation, and to conduct weightlifting seminars throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Although weightlifting is his only sport, the versatile Kono won the Mr. World physique title in 1954 and Mr. Universe titles in 1955, 1957, and 1961—all held in conjunction with world weightlifting championships. In 1959 he was honored by a resolution passed by the House of Representatives of Hawaii's first legislative session for his "great achievements and contributions to the State of Hawaii." In 1990 he was inducted to the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, and in 1991 to the International Weightlifting Federation Hall of Fame. A particularly proud moment was in 1996, when Kono was invited as one of the "100 Golden Olympians" to be a special guest to the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta. No weightlifter has won the prestigious Sullivan Award of the Amateur Athletic Union, but Kono was runner-up four times. In a 1982 poll conducted by Hungarian Ferenc Fejer for the official magazine of the International Weightlifting Federation, Tommy Kono was rated the greatest weightlifter of all time.

A complete chronicle of Kono's lifting career is available in Osmo Kiiha, "The Incredible Tommy Kono," The Iron Master (5 Dec. 1990). Other useful portraits include A. Grove Day, "America's Mightiest Little Man," Coronet (July 1960); Harry McLaughlin, "Real Life Story of Tommy Kono," Strength and Health 32 (May 1964); Bill Kwon, "He's the Greatest, That's All," Honolulu Star-Bulletin (6 Aug. 1982); and Kwon, "Kono in U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame," Honolulu Star-Bulletin (5 July 1990). In addition to many training articles, the most complete rendering of Kono's own thoughts on the sport is available in his book Weightlifting, Olympic Style (2001).

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