Tommy Kono, his early life and Japanese American weightlifter

tommy kono his eary life and Japanese American weightlifter

Tommy Kono was born on June 27, 1930, in Sacramento, California. He was one of four children born to Japanese immigrants. When he was two years old, his family moved to Hawaii, where he would live for the rest of his childhood. Tommy Kono began weightlifting at 16 after being inspired by American Olympic weightlifter John Grimek. In 1950, he won his first weightlifting competition and numerous other titles, including Mr. America, Mr. Universe, and two Olympic gold medals. He is considered one of the greatest weightlifters of all time. Tommy Kono’s success as a weightlifter is even more impressive when you consider the fact that he was interned in a Japanese-American concentration camp during World War II. Despite this challenging experience, he became one of the most successful athletes in history.

Tommy Kono’s Early Life

Tommy Kono was born in Sacramento, California, on June 27, 1930. His parents were Japanese immigrants who had come to the United States in the early 1900s. Kono’s father worked as a fisherman, and his mother was a homemaker. As a child, Kono was petite and skinny. He was often teased by other kids and called names like “shrimp” and “stilts.” Kono’s father encouraged him to start weightlifting as a way to build up his strength and confidence.
tommy kono his eary life and Japanese American weightlifter

Kono began lifting weights at the age of 13. He quickly started seeing results and became hooked on the sport. By the time he graduated from high school, Kono had won numerous weightlifting competitions.

In 1950, Kono was drafted into the United States Army. He served during the Korean War and rose to the rank of sergeant. After his military service, Kono returned to weightlifting and soon became one of the top lifters in the world.

Kono won gold medals at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki and the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne. He also set world records in both the snatch and clean-and-jerk lifts. In 1957, Kono retired from competition at the age of 27.

After retiring from weightlifting, Kono opened a successful business selling weightlifting equipment. He also wrote a bestselling book about weightlifting titled Weightlifting for Champions (1958). Kono remained active in the sport

Tommy Kono’s Weightlifting Career

Tommy Kono was born in Sacramento, California, in 1930. He began weightlifting in 1946 at the age of 16. He quickly became one of the top amateur weightlifters in the United States. In 1950, he won the AAU (American Amateur Union) championships in the lightweight division.

In 1951, Kono moved up to the middleweight division and won the AAU championships again. He also won a gold medal at the Pan American Games that year.

Kono’s career peaked in 1952 when he won the Olympic gold medal in Helsinki, Finland. He became the first Asian American to win an Olympic gold medal in weightlifting. Kono also set world records in both the snatch and total at the 1952 Olympics.

Kono retired from competition after winning a silver medal at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. He later became a successful weightlifting coach, helping to train Olympic and world champion weightlifters such as Oscar Stateline and Bill Bright.
tommy kono his eary life and Japanese American weightlifter

Tommy Kono’s Later Years

Kono moved to the United States in 1953 to attend the University of California, Berkeley, on a weightlifting scholarship. There, he studied physical education and quickly became one of the top collegiate weightlifters in the country. After winning the national championships in 1955 and 1956, Kono turned his attention to international competition.

He won gold medals at the world championships in 1958 and 1962 and silver medals in 1954 and 1966. He also competed at three Olympic Games, winning gold medals in 1952 and 1956 and a silver medal in 1960.

In 1963, Kono retired from competition and became the head coach of the U.S. weightlifting team. He coached the team at the 1968 Olympic Games, where they won four medals, including two golds.

Kono continued to work as a coach and administrator for USA Weightlifting until his retirement in 2002. He was inducted into the International Weightlifting Federation Hall of Fame in 1999 and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 1985. Kono passed away on April 24, 2016, at 85.


Tommy Kono was an incredible weightlifter and an inspiration to many. He overcame adversity early on to become one of the most successful Japanese American weightlifters. His story is one of determination and strength, and he will continue to be remembered as a legend in the weightlifting world.


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