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Strength & Friendship: Remembering Tommy Kono


During the 2017 holiday season over 40 large boxes were delivered to the Stark Center. The boxes contained a remarkable collection of material assembled by Tommy Kono, recognized by the International Weightlifting Federation in 2005 as the greatest weightlifter of the previous hundred years. During his competitive career, the personable Kono set 26 world records in four different bodyweight classes, earned gold medals at the 1952 and 1956 Olympic Games and won a silver medal in 1960. He also won six world championships in weightlifting.

Besides being an incomparable lifter, Tommy was a saver, and his collection contains his personal training diaries, books, magazines, films, videotapes, awards, and even his Olympic medals. It also contains thousands of photographs documenting his childhood; his early teens, during which he and his family lived in a World War II internment camp for Japanese Americans; and his long and illustrious adult life. The primary architect of this matchless gift to the Center is another lifting legend, Dr. Pete George, whose own accomplishments on the platform were very little, if at all, below those of Kono – his long-time friend and fellow Hawaiian for more than 60 years.

Following the end of his competitive lifting career, Tommy – who had a worldwide circle of friends – served consecutive terms as coach of Mexico’s 1968 Olympic weightlifting team, West Germany’s 1972 Olympic weightlifting team, and the US’s 1976 Olympic weightlifting team. He also coached the US women’s team during the World Weightlifting Championships in 1988. After 1976 he took an administrative job with the Honolulu Parks and Recreation Department, helped found the Honolulu Marathon, and continued coaching weightlifting.

Over our many years at the Stark Center we have been fortunate to have been trusted with many significant collections. Beyond question, the Tommy Kono Collection ranks among the most exceptional, and we are deeply grateful to Tommy for assembling and saving it, and to Pete George and the wonderful Kono family for helping the collection make its way here, where it will always be among friends.

Read the Iron Game History issue devoted to Tommy Kono’s life and career.