“Today’s Doodle, illustrated by Los Angeles-based guest artist Shanti Rittgers, celebrates Japanese American coach, Olympic gold-medalist athlete, and world-champion bodybuilder Tommy Kono, who is regarded as one of the greatest weightlifters in United States history.
“Tamio ‘Tommy’ Kono was born in Sacramento, Calif., on this day in 1930. During the onset of World War II, Kono and his family, all of Japanese descent, were among the over 120,000 Japanese Americans forced by the U.S. government to be detained in prison camps … It was in one of these camps that Kono was introduced to weightlifting — which he practiced relentlessly in an effort to become healthier after experiencing severe asthma throughout his childhood.
“When the fog of war lifted, Kono returned home to Sacramento, where he entered his first weightlifting competitions. By 1952, he was an invaluable member of the U.S. national weightlifting team, in part due to his rare ability to move between weight classes without losing his strength. Kono won his first Olympic gold medal in the lightweight division that same year at the Helsinki Summer Games. This began a winning streak that crescendoed at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games when he won the light-heavyweight competition — his final Olympic gold medal.
“After his 1964 retirement from a career gilded by 26 world records, along with dozens of championship titles in weightlifting and several in bodybuilding, Kono shared his seasoned expertise throughout the ’70s as an Olympic coach. In 1993, Kono was inducted into the Weightlifting Hall of Fame, and to this day, Kono remains the only weightlifter in history to hold world records in four different weight classes.
“Happy birthday, Tommy Kono, and thank you for using your strength to lift not just weights, but those around you.”
Kono passed away on April 24, 2016 at the age of 85 in Honolulu. Survivors included his wife, two sons, a daughter and three grandchildren.
His family released the following statement in conjunction with the Google Doodle:
“My father’s upbringing taught him a lot about sacrifice and honor while still maintaining his own path. He was dedicated to teaching others the art, science, and philosophy behind weightlifting which would take him around the world, ultimately winning him multiple titles in multiple weight classes for well over a decade in both weightlifting and bodybuilding competitions.
“My father would always say weightlifting was 30% physical and 70% mental and his ability to stay focused with a positive mental attitude was his greatest strength throughout his weightlifting career. He always encouraged positivity and growth and used phrases he felt would help you through life.
“’Do what you should before you do what you want’ was one of his sayings. That holds true for me still today.”