Tommy Kono

Name Tommy Kono
Born June 27 1930
Died April 24 2016
Birth Location Sacramento, California
Generational Identifier


Olympic gold medal winning weightlifter and champion bodybuilder. Arguably the most acclaimed Japanese American athlete and one of the greatest Olympic style weightlifters of all time, Tommy Kono (1930– ) first began lifting weights while incarcerated as a teenager at Tule Lake .

Born in Sacramento, California, his childhood was marked by severe asthma, which ironically improved in the clear air of Tule Lake. While at Tule Lake, where he remained with his parents until nearly the end of the war, he began lifting weights and came to realize an aptitude for the sport. Returning to Sacramento after the war, he began entering serious competitions and was one of the world's best by the time he as drafted into the army in 1951. Working as a cook, which allowed him time to train, he won his first national title in 1952 and won an Olympic gold medal later that year in the lightweight division. It was the first of eight consecutive world championships, won in three different weight classes, which included a second Olympic gold in 1956 and twenty-six world records. He also won four major body building titles. His world championship streak ended in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, where he settled for the silver medal.

After his retirement, he became a sought after coach, serving as Olympic team coach for three different countries. He has also been a leading spokesperson and advocate for his sport who has has also pioneered a number of important training devices and techniques. He has made Hawai'i his home since 1955.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

For More Information

Kono, Tommy. Weightlifting, Olympic Style . Honolulu: HKC, 2001.

———. Championship Weightlifting . Honolulu: HKC, 2010.

Niiya, Brian, ed. More than a Game: Sport in the Japanese American Community . Los Angeles: Japanese American National Museum, 2000.

---. "Tamio 'Tommy' Kono." In Encyclopedia of Japanese American History: An A-to-Z Reference from 1868 to the Present, Updated Edition . Edited by Brian Niiya. New York: Checkmark Books, 2001. 249–51.

Svinth, Joseph R. "Tommy Kono." Physical Training , January 2000. .

Last updated May 21, 2024, 1:15 a.m..