In 1942, the then-12-year-old Tommy Kono was forced into an internment camp during World War II. Ten years later, the American-born weightlifter would win a gold medal in the Olympic games for the US, the first in a record-setting career.
He would go on to set world records in four different weight classes, a hefty achievement for someone who had to overcome not just the suspicion of his fellow countrymen but also obstacles in his own physical health. To honor the strength of his achievement, Google on Sunday celebrated Kono’s 91st birthday with an animated Doodle depicting the clean and jerk, an iconic weightlifting exercise.
Tamio “Tommy” Kono was born June 27, 1930, in Sacramento, California, to a family of Japanese descent that was forced to relocate to the Tule Lake internment camp at the onset of US involvement in World War II. He was among the 120,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast forced to leave their homes and incarcerated during the war.
Ironically, his captivity would prove beneficial. Sickly as a child, the desert air at the camp’s location near the border between California and Oregon proved helpful in combating Kono’s severe asthma. And it was here that he was introduced to weightlifting and body building.
After more than three years of internment, Kono was released from the camp and finished high school in Sacramento. In 1950, he was drafted into the US Army during the Korean War but excused from overseas duty when his Olympic potential became apparent.
Kono would go on to win Olympic gold medals in 1952 and 1956, silver medals in 1960 and six straight World titles from 1953 to 1959. He would go on to set 26 world records across four weight classes and was inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame and the International Weightlifting Hall of Fame.
He died in 2016 at the age on 85, after a lifetime of showing he had the strength to overcome the obstacles in his path.