Reflect: Weightlifter Tommy Kono

Center for Sacramento History, Dusty Miller Collection, 1994/099/0006
Tommy Kono
Tommy Kono at an exhibition in Berlin soon after competing at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland

Tommy Kono, who was born in Sacramento in 1930, remains the United States’ most decorated weight lifter. He brought home gold at the Olympics in 1952 and 1956, and silver in 1960, and he won the World Weightlifting Championships six consecutive times, among other triumphs. Notably, he set world records in four weight divisions.

Kono started lifting weights during World War II, while he and his parents were incarcerated with other Japanese Americans at Tule Lake. After his release, he attended Sacramento High School and Sacramento Junior College, then was drafted into the U.S. Army, where his talent was recognized and he was encouraged to train for the 1952 Olympics. He moved to Honolulu in the mid-1950s, retired from competition in 1965, then remained an influence in his chosen sport through coaching, teaching, writing and refereeing. He died in 2016.