Tommy Kono – Greatest American Weightlifter

Tommy Kono is a legendary weightlifter and bodybuilder known for his incredible feats of strength and mental focus. Born in Sacramento, California, he dominated the middleweight and light heavyweight categories in international competition, setting numerous Olympic and world records along the way. Here’s everything you need to know about Tommy Kono, the greatest American weightlifter ever.

Tommy Kono - Greatest American Weightlifter

Who is Tommy Kono

Tamio Kono, known professionally as Tommy Kono, was a renowned American weightlifter. Born in Sacramento, California on June 27, 1930, he went on to win Olympic and world championship medals across three different weight divisions before passing away in Honolulu, Hawaii on April 24, 2016.

During World War II, Kono and his parents were among the Japanese-Americans interned at Tule Lake, California. Despite struggling with bronchial asthma as a child, Kono’s health improved in the dry desert air. He took up weightlifting, and by 1952, he was a vital member of the U.S. national team. Kono’s versatility was key to his success, as he was able to maintain his strength while increasing or reducing his body weight, allowing him to compete in multiple weight categories.

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Tommy Kono Image (Source/Credit:


Stage Name: Tommy Kono
Real Name: Tommy Kono
Profession(s): Weight Lifter
Birthday: June 27, 1930
Zodiac Sign: Cancer
Death: Died on (6 years ago) (Age: 85 years)
Gender: Male
Birthplace: California, United States
Hometown: California, California, United States
Nationality: American


Tommy Kono, who began lifting weights while his Japanese American family was confined in a detention camp during WWII, then went on to win Olympic gold medals and three Mr Universe titles and was frequently acclaimed as the best weightlifter of all time, died April 24 at a hospice facility in Honolulu. He turned 85.

Height, Weight & Measurement

Tommy Kono stood about five feet six inches tall (167 cm).

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Tommy Kono’s Height (Source/Credit:


Tommy Kono, who may arguably be considered the greatest weightlifter produced in the US, was a force to be reckoned with during his career. From 1953 to 1959, he remained undefeated in world and Olympic competitions, earning six consecutive international titles and Olympic gold medals. Additionally, he was awarded three gold medals at the Pan American Games in 1955, 1959, and 1963. Kono’s exceptional versatility was showcased by his Olympic medals in three different weight classes and his status as the only man to have set international records in four categories. He also claimed 11 AAU Championships in three weight divisions.

Throughout his career, Kono set a total of 27 world records and was a unique weightlifter who also competed successfully as a bodybuilder, winning the AAU Mr. Universe title in 1954, 1955, and 1957. He went on to coach the national teams of Mexico and West Germany and served as an American weightlifting coach in the 1970s and at the 1976 Olympics. Kono was inducted into the Weightlifting Hall of Fame in 1993 and is a member of the America Olympic Hall of Fame and the Association of Oldetime Barbell and Strongmen Hall of Fame. In 1952, as a lightweight (weight limit of 67.5 kg [149 pounds]), Kono won a national title and a gold medal at the Olympic Games held in Helsinki, Finland. As a middleweight (weight limit of 75 kg [165 pounds]), he earned four national titles (1953, 1958–60), a Pan American title (1959), four global titles (1953, 1957–59), and a silver medal at the Rome Olympics (1960).

As a light heavyweight (weight limit of 82.5 kg [182 pounds]), he secured six national titles (1954–55, 1957, 1961–63), two Pan American titles (1955, 1963), global titles (1954–55), and a gold medal at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. He also set a world record as a middle heavyweight (weight limit of 90 kg [198 pounds]). Kono, who established 37 American, eight Pan American, 7 Olympic, and 26 international records, is the only weightlifter to have set world records in four separate weight divisions. He was named Mr. International in 1954 and won the Mr. Universe title in 1955 and 1957.

Tommy Kono, widely regarded as the greatest weightlifter of all time, was born as the youngest of four sons to Japanese immigrants in Sacramento, California. Despite suffering from asthma and missing a third of his school days due to illness, he discovered bodybuilding and weightlifting and soon developed his strength. He started competing in 1948 and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming Pacific Coast champion in 1949 and almost upsetting reigning champion Joe Pitman in his first senior nationals in 1950. After being inducted into the US military in 1952, he was transferred to Fort Mason in San Francisco to be near Oakland, which was the center of American weightlifting.

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In addition to his weightlifting accomplishments, Kono won several bodybuilding titles, including Mr. World in 1954 and Mr Universe in 1955, 1957, and 1961. He served as a national weightlifting coach for Mexico, West Germany, and the US for the 1968, 1972, and 1976 Olympics, respectively, and from 1987 to 1989 he coached the US women’s world championship team. He was inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame and the International Weightlifting Hall of Fame, and was rated the best weightlifter of all time in a poll conducted by the International Weightlifting Federation in 1982.

With the military providing financial support for his education, Kono dominated the light-weight category and set a world record of 259-pound lift in the Helsinki 1952 Olympics, winning the gold medal. In 1955, he moved to Hawaii and under the tutelage of Dr. Richard You, he reigned supreme in the middleweight division, winning international championships in 1953, 1957, 1958, and 1959, and a silver medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics. As a light heavyweight, he secured international titles in 1954 and 1955, and took home the gold at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, establishing a world record of 986-pound total in a three-lift competition. Kono was the anchor of American teams during the 1950s and excelled as a snatch performer. Upon retiring in 1965, he became a legendary figure in both national and international lifting circles, having set seven Olympic, 37 American, eight Pan American, and 26 world records. He is the only weightlifter to have won medals in three different weight categories in three different Olympics, a testament to his versatility.

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Kono stands alone as the only weightlifter to establish world records in four different weight categories. Despite his reputation for mental toughness and technical proficiency, he also demonstrated incredible physical strength. At a weight of 152 pounds, he completed six sets of 340-pound squats in under 30 minutes. As a light heavyweight, he performed a front squat with 451 pounds and lifted a pair of 112.5-pound dumbbells for ten repetitions. Despite a declining standard for the press lift in the late 1950s, Kono performed the lift in a stringent manner and maintained his standing as a world record holder. Notably, his accomplishments predated the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport.


During World War II, Kono and his parents were among the eastern residents incarcerated at Tule Lake, California. Kono had asthma as a child, although he was physically fit.


Tommy Kono, a weightlifter and bodybuilder of Japanese heritage, was born in Sacramento, California, U.S. He honed his skills at Tule Lake, where he began developing his abilities at a young age. He gained widespread recognition for his achievements at the Olympics, where he received multiple awards and set numerous Olympic and world records. Following his retirement from competitive weightlifting, he took on the role of coach for several Olympic teams. To delve deeper into his background and professional highlights, continue reading! Kono’s success, largely due to his early years of solitary training in the basement of his home, was attributed to his ability to focus. He believed that weightlifting, among all sports, was closest to Zen, a form of Buddhism characterized by intense meditation rather than religious adherence.

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Kono’s exceptional control of his mind over his physique allowed him to exhibit extraordinary strength, especially during critical moments in his career. Despite his knee injuries, he set new records in the press event at the Moscow and Tokyo competitions in 1961, and held off a strong challenge from Lou Riecke at the national championships in the same year.

One of the most noteworthy moments in American weightlifting was Kono’s victory over Lou Riecke at the 1963 senior nationals, where he lifted 375 pounds in a clean-and-jerk and earned the best lifter award for the 7th time. However, the highlight of his career was his triumph at the 1957 world championships in Tehran. After struggling to clear 358 pounds on his first two attempts in the clean-and-jerk, Kono persevered and defeated his Russian rival, Fyodor Bogdanovsky, based solely on bodyweight. The Iranians, who were present at the event with only a small American delegation, celebrated by carrying Kono off the platform as if he were their national hero.


Tommy Kono was born on June 27, 1930 in Sacramento, California to Japanese parents Ishimi Kono and Kanichi. In 1942, twelve years after his beginnings, his entire family was deported to the Tule Lake internment camp for the rest of World War II. Tommy was born with asthma and relied on the lonely tract air for relief.


His spouse Florence, whom he wedded in 1962, his daughter Joann, sons Jamieson and Mark, and three grandkids remain.

Net worth

The current estimate for Tommy Kono’s net worth is between $1 million and $5 million. He has been successful at weightlifting his entire life and is known for his outstanding results on numerous national and international levels.

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