Tamio “Tommy” Kono, a two-time Olympic weightlifting champion who also coached the U.S. team at the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games, passed away on Sunday in Honolulu due to complications from liver disease. He was 85.
Born in Sacramento, California, on June 27, 1930, Kono and his family, which were of Japanese descent, were relocated to Tuke Lake internment camp during World War II. It was there that he was introduced to weightlifting.
He burst onto the international scene at the Helsinki 1952 Olympic Games, winning the first of back-to-back Olympic titles (he also won silver in 1960). That began an impressive string of eight Olympic and world championships from 1952 until 1959. In total, he won 11 golds, two silvers and a bronze at the Olympic, world championship or Pan American Games level in three different weight classes (67.5 kg., 75 kg. and 82.5 kg.). Before he retired in 1964, he had set 26 world, seven Olympic and eight Pan American Games records.
In addition to his weightlifting career, Kono also excelled in the realm of bodybuilding, winning the title of “Mr. World” in 1954 and “Mr. Universe” in 1955, 1957 and 1961.
Kono remained active in the sport, coaching the national and Olympic teams of Mexico and West Germany before serving as coach of the U.S. Olympic team in Montreal. He developed the joint bands that competitive international weightlifters wear on their knees and elbows, authored two books and numerous articles on weightlifting and also rose to the level of Category 1 as an international referee. According to his website, www.tommykono.com, Kono was the boyhood idol and inspiration of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
He was inducted into the International Weightlifting Hall of Fame in 1993 and also is a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee Hall of Fame and the Association of Oldetime Barbell and Strongmen Hall of Fame. He was recognized as one of the One Hundred Golden Olympians at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games.