Who was Tommy Kono? Google Doodle honors Olympic weightlifter whose family was driven out of home

Tommy Kono's journey saw his life meander from internment camps during World War II to Olympic gold medals for the US within just a decade


                            Who was Tommy Kono? Google Doodle honors Olympic weightlifter whose family was driven out of home
American weightlifter Tommy Kono (1930 - 2016) lifting 172.5 Kg in the Clean and Jerk during the World Weightlifting Championships held in Vienna, Austria, October 1954 (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Millions of loyal Google users might have turned to the homepage of the search engine and been left amused by its June 27 customized doodle. The animation shows a bespectacled weightlifter doing the clean and jerk with barbells that have Google's signature red, blue, yellow, and green colored weights on them. It's easy to deduce that Google is honoring something or someone from the sport, but hovering the mouse cursor over the doodle will reveal the shocking history of one of weightlifting's earliest prodigies — Tommy Kono.

Kono's journey saw his harrowing life meander from internment camps during World War II to medals in the Olympic games for the US within the span of just a decade. In 1942, Kono was sent to internment camps in the US along with several Japanese as America fought the 2nd World War. Ten years later, his Olympic victory kindled a record-setting career as Kono would go on to win and set records in four different weight categories. This was a milestone achievement for not only someone who was faced with suspicion by his own country, but also someone who overcame great obstacles in his own physical health. To mark Kono's 91st birthday, Google is honoring the champion with a vibrant doodle.

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Google honors Tommy Kono on his 91st birthday with a doodle (Google)

Who was Tommy Kono?

Born Tamio Kono on June 27, 1930, the Olympian was from a Sacramento, California family of Japanese descent, who had been forced to the Tule Lake internment camp during the Second World War. Kono was among the 120,000 Japanese Americans on the West coast who had been driven out of their homes in an act dubbed as one of America's most shameful moments in history. 

However, the community-wide incarceration brought some good news as well. The website CNET notes that the desert air at the camp's location, which was along the California-Oregon border, proved helpful in tackling the severe asthma Kono suffered from. At the same camp, Kono's illustrious career with weightlifting began, after being introduced to the sport along with bodybuilding in his over three-year-long stay there.

American weightlifter Tommy Kono (1930 - 2016) in action during the Middleweight Class Event at the Summer Olympics held at the Palazzetto dello Sport in Rome, Italy, 8th September 1960 (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Kono's Olympic success

After Kono was released from the camp sometime around 1945-46, he went on to finish high school in Sacramento. But he was soon drafted into the US Army during the Korean War in 1950. His overseas duty, however, didn't last long either, as his Olympic potential started to be apparent. Rigorous training for the next two years saw Kono climb the ladder of success with his first win bagging him an Olympic gold in 1952. He won another gold in 1956, along with silver medals in 1960, and six separate straight World titles between 1953 to 1959.

Kono went on to set 26 world records in four separate categories, an achievement that elevated him to the Olympic Hall of Fame and the International Weightlifting Hall of Fame. Winning the Iron Man Mr World title in 1954 and several Mr Universe titles, Kono also served as the head coach of the US Olympic weightlifting team in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. The celebrated weightlifter died in 2016, at the age of 85, from complications of liver disease. He was in Honolulu, Hawaii at the time.

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