Thursday, June 5, 2014

Legendary Olympic Lifter Tommy Kono

On the victory platform, a familiar sight.

From an article that appeared recently in the Sacramento Newspaper. Tommy Kono is one of the all-time greats and very likely the greatest lifter to represent the United States. The story where he mentions going to Russia to compete is very similar to the story line in the movie Rocky IV, except it really happened. He recounts the story in detail in his first book. We highly recommend both of his books for any athlete as the mental principles alone are worth the price of the books, but there is much more too. You can find Tommy's website under the Other Resources tab on our home page and purchase the books. It has been my privilege to meet and talk with Tommy a few times. We even had lunch together once. As the article states, he personifies humility with confidence. I really love the essay he contributed, "If I Had My Way", about respect in the weight room. I will have all of my athletes read it. We have featured Tommy several times in the past here:

Tommy did some general body building exercises during phases of his training.

Legendary Olympic Lifter Tommy Kono
I had the immense fortune of interviewing the legendary Tommy Kono via email.  Kono is arguably the greatest Olympic weightlifter the world has ever seen.  Kono won Gold at the 1952 and 1956 Summer Games in Olympic Weightlifting, and a Silver Medal at the 1960 Games.  As a 6-time World Weightlifting Champion, Kono set an astounding 21 world records.

As rare as it is to set world records in a single weight class, Kono is the only Olympic Weightlifter in history to have set world records in four different weight classes, serving as a testament to his truly elite training methods, biomechanics, and mental fortitude.

Kono was also a successful Bodybuilder, winning the Iron Man Mr. World title.  After retiring from competition, Kono served as head coach to the Mexico (1968), West German (1972) and US Olympic weightlifting team (1976). 

Perhaps most revealing about Kono’s character is that he brought home 2 Gold Medals to the US, the same country that had sent him and others of Japanese descent to the Tule Lake internment camp a decade earlier.  I can think of no greater grace than embodied by this man.

SCS: What is your Asian heritage?

TK: Both my parents were born and raised in Japan.

SCS: Where did you grow up?

TK: I was born and raised in Sacramento.

SCS: What did you love about Sacramento when you lived here?
I grew up and had my education to Junior College in Sacramento except for the 3 1/2 years in relocation camp at Tule Lake during World War II years (June 1942 to December 1945). Sacramento was my hometown so I have good memories of growing up there.

SCS: What do you most strongly identify with in your Asian culture?
TK: I was raised with Japanese culture.

SCS: How did your parents and your cultural upbringing influence your career path?
TK: A strong Japanese ethic culture influenced me greatly.

SCS: Did you experience any specific challenges or misperceptions when you were competing in weightlifting and bodybuilding because of your Asian heritage?
TK: The sport of weightlifting actually attracted minority groups.

SCS: How has your competitive career in weightlifting shaped your philosophy and approach to life?
TK: Being born with poor health, I learned through the principle of exercising with weights that improvement in muscle development and health can be achieved.  The same principle can be applied to the improvement of your life.

Epic photo of National Coaches Robert Roman (USSR) & Tommy Kono (Mexico)

SCS: What projects are you currently working on that you are most excited about?
TK: I have published two instructional books on Olympic weightlifting and currently gathering materials for my third book.  (Editor’s Note: Kono’s classic texts are Weightlifting, Olympic Style and Championship Weightlifting, Beyond Muscle Power: the Mental Side of Lifting.)

SCS: What do you consider as a your greatest athletic achievement?
TK: Competing in the Prize of Moscow Weightlifting Tournament in March of 1958 on short notice.  Leaving the balmy weather of Hawaii and arriving in the freezing cold weather of Moscow almost half way around the world (11 hours time difference) on a propeller plane with no coach and teammates, with only a translator backstage in the warm up area who knew nothing about weightlifting.

I managed to win despite competing against 7 outstanding lifters, 6 of whom were either world or Olympic champions or world record holders.

We wanted to also share the following passage written by Mr. Tommy Kono that reflects his philosophy & passion for the sport of Olympic Weightlifting…


by Tommy Kono

If I had my way, the weightlifting area would be treated like a “dojo” as the martial arts students would use their area and equipment for training.

The entire area would be treated with respect from the bar to the barbell plates, from the chalk box to the platform.

The barbell bars would never have the soles of a lifter’s shoe get on it to move or spin it, no more than you would place your shoes on the table top. The bumper plates would never be tossed or stepped on.

The barbell will always be loaded with double bumper plates on each side whenever possible to preserve the bar and the platform. The purpose is to distribute the load over two bumper plates instead of one with an assortment of small iron plates.

The barbell lifted would never be “thrown” down or dropped from overhead except for safety reasons. The hands will guide the bar down in a controlled manner as it is in a contest.

Anger from a failed lift will be controlled so no four-lettered words would be used.

Instead the energy for the anger will be directed for a positive result.

A good Olympic bar will never be used on a squat rack for squatting purpose. There is no need to use the good bar on the squat rack where it could ruin the knurling or cause the bar to be under undue stress, damaging the integrity of the quality of the bar that makes it straight and springy.

When a lifter finishes using the area for training, it would be left neat and clean with the barbell bars and plates properly stored.

Imagine how it would be if you did not have the gym to work out in and had to go to one of the spas, health clubs or fitness gym to practice Olympic lifting.

Imagine if you did not have a “good” Olympic bar and bumper plates for training.

Imagine if all the equipment was your very own and you had to replace it if you or someone damaged it by abuse – the money coming out of your own pocket.

Treat the Olympic barbell bars, bumper plates, platforms and any items used for training or competition with respect.

Development of a strong character begins with respect even for innate objects.

Character Building begins with Respect and Responsibility.

Photo credits: www.honoluluadvertiser.com

In a body building competition.

A recent picture with Arnold who he inspired as a young man.

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