“We are excited and humbled that Tommy has been inducted into the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame. We are grateful to the fans of the sport of Weightlifting for their support and remembrance of him. It is a very special feeling to know that his hometown of Sacramento has bestowed this honor upon him.” - Family of Tommy Kono
High School: Sacramento
College: Sacramento City
* 2 Time Olympic Gold Medalist
* 6 Time World Weightlifting Champion
* 8 Time International Gold Medalist
* 14 Career International Medals
* Iron Man Mr. World Title (1954)
Tommy Kono was born “Tamio Kono” in 1930 in Sacramento. He would later become known as Tommy. He was of Japanese descent and growing up in that time, he incurred numerous hardships. He was a small, sickly boy with asthma that beat all odds to become one of the greatest American success stories.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the lives of Tommy, his family and so many others were affected and changed drastically. The declaration of war forced them to abandon their homes. They were loaded on trains to be relocated to the Tule Lake Relocation Center - an internment camp housing over 20,000 people in tar-papered shacks located behind barbed-wire fences.
Trying to live as close to a normal life as possible, Tommy attempted sports. He played baseball and basketball but it was another sport that caught his attention. His neighbor had a weightlifting set and Tommy was introduced to the sport that would change his life. His dad opposed to this because he thought young Tommy was too skinny and frail. Tommy would sneak over to the neighbor’s house and began to fall in love with lifting barbells over his head.
After three and a half years in the internment camp, Tommy and his family were allowed to go back to Sacramento. There, he built a gym in the basement of his house and his body began to change. Tommy was getting stronger and it was then he started thinking about competing.
War would enter into Tommy’s life again, this time it was the Korean War and he enlisted in the Army. He was a cook, but he was also crafting up his future through weightlifting. In 1952, Tommy had qualified for the Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland. This was the beginning of something special as he had the skills to become one of the best. At 5’ 5” and 148 pounds, Tommy lifted 257 pounds over his head to win his first Olympic Gold Medal. The world was noticing Tommy especially the Soviet Union. The Soviets began filming Tommy secretly, trying to study his training techniques. In 1955, The Russians invited him to come to Moscow for an exhibition. They tried to make him feel uncomfortable as his accommodations were terrible. Tommy competed against numerous Russian weightlifters in front of 15,000 people and defeated every one of them.
The following year, Tommy would defend his title and compete in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. This time, he was competing in a higher weight class against the best in the world. As difficult as this was, Tommy made it look rather easy. He dominated the field and set a new world record and captured his second gold medal. Tommy competed in the Olympics one more time in the 1960 Games, in Rome. He won the Silver Medal and then felt it was time to retire.
After his competing days were over, he became a head coach for several Olympic teams. He guided the teams of Mexico in 1968, West Germany in 1972 and Team USA in 1976. In all, Tommy won six world championships, 14 international medals with eight of them being Gold, while setting 26 world records. In 2005, the International Weightlifting Federation named Tommy "Lifter of the Century." He retired to Hawaii where he was immensely popular. He worked for the Parks and Recreation Department and was very involved in the community. He was one of the founders of the Honolulu Marathon, and was actively involved from 1973 - 2014.
Tommy was more than a successful weightlifter, he was also the best Body Builder in the world: winning the Mr. Universe title four times. He was a true pioneer in his sport and such an icon, it led him to being admired by and befriending Arnold Schwarzenegger. Tommy often joked that he didn’t know Arnold, Arnold knew him!
In 2016, Tommy passed away at the age of 85. Tommy was admired and beloved by everyone who came in contact with him. He survived three wars, and despite all the hatred and difficult times he faced, he wore the USA jersey proudly. Tommy is an inspiration and example to others. He will always be remembered as the most dominant weightlifter in our history and one of the most heralded Olympic athletes ever from Sacramento.