Island History: Tommy Kono’s weightlifting exhibition on Kaua‘i in 1956

On Saturday evening, Feb. 26, 1956, Tamio “Tommy” Kono of Honolulu established two world weightlifting records at Waimea High School’s Clem Gomes gym before some 350 onlookers during an exhibition sponsored by the Kekaha Strength & Health Club.

 Kono, a middleweight weighing in at 165 pounds, pressed 300 pounds that night to exceed the middleweight world record of 295.5 pounds he’d set a week earlier at the Nu‘uanu YMCA in Honolulu.

He also broke his world record mark of 903 pounds for the combined total of three lifts — press, snatch and clean-and-jerk — with lifts totaling 925 pounds.

Afterwards, Kono completed his exhibition by driving two nails through a one inch plank with his hands and blowing up a hot water bottle with his mouth until it burst.

Born in California in 1930, he is considered the greatest Olympic weightlifter, pound-for-pound, of all time.

He won gold medals as a lightweight in the 1952 Olympics, and as a light heavyweight at the 1956 Olympic Games, and a silver medal in the 1960 Olympics as a middleweight, setting seven Olympic weightlifting records in the process.

     Kono also set 26 world weightlifting records and was crowned world champion eight times in four different body weight classes during a competitive career that began in 1948 and ended in 1963.

As a bodybuilder, he won Mr. Universe titles at Munich, Germany in 1955, Teheran, Iran in 1957, and at Vienna, Austria in 1961.

He once offered the advice that “We should all strive to keep improving ourselves no matter what happens.  Adversities and objects are there to challenge our mettle and to make us better, stronger persons.  

Making excuses or looking for excuses get you nowhere, but finding the solution to a problem is what weightlifting and life is all about.”


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