During the weekend, Conor and I had the opportunity to hear the legend John D. Fair deliver a talk regarding Tommy Kono during the 2018 North American Society for Sport History in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Here is what we learned.
Tommy Kono was an American weightlifter born of Japanese descent. While both parents were born and married in Japan, Tommy was born in Sacramento, California in 1930.
At age 15, so in 1945 (Second World War 😉 ), Tommy and his family were sent to a relocation camp in Tule Lake located in Northern California where they would stay for 3 and half years. Although Relocation Camps are sometimes presented in the same vein as the Nazi Concentration Camps, Fair revealed that, although not the opportune location to live, Tommy had the opportunity to work for a small salary and participate in physical activity leading to a flourishing weightlifting career.
Although Kono began practicing Judo, his neighbor in the camp introduced him to York Barbells and to Bob Hoffman’s practices. Although afflicted with severe asthma, it seems that his early introduction to the practice of bodybuilding greatly helped in overcoming this issue. Fair also argues that bodybuilding served as the foundation for Kono’s weightlifting career.
Leaving the Relocation Camp, Kono began training in the Sacramento YMCA where he increased his overall total lift to 785lbs in only two years (from 584lbs two years prior.) Adopting Peter George’s Squat Snatch, Kono will become as termed by Fair, “America’s Greatest Weightlifter.”
Kono total career summarizes like so:
8 Consecutive world and Olympic Titles – Gold in 1952 Olympics, Gold in 1956 Olympics, Silver in 1960 Olympics.
Broke several world records in particular 4 in the 1952 Olympic Games when he amassed a total of 815 pounds (that he broke in Copenhagen hitting a total of 837 pounds.)
Won the IWF Mr. Universe titles in 1954, 1955, 1957, and 1961.
Coached three countries: Mexico for the 1968 Olympic Games, West Germany for the 1972 Games, and finally the US for the 1976 Games.
Finally Kono is known for his weightlifting apparatuses such as his knee bands sold under the T.K. Brand. Although running in some trouble with York when Bob Hoffman used the pattern for his own profit, the original Kono equipment is still available and is commonly used in the sport of weightlifting.
We are eternally grateful to John D. Fair for sharing this amazing knowledge at this years NASSH conference.