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Tommy Kono, Olympic weightlifting champ, dies at 85

David Weissman
717-505-5431/@DispatchDavid
  • Final remaining member of "Muscletown, USA" mural, Tommy Kono, died April 24 at age 85.
  • Kono, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in weightlifting, trained with York Barbell in the 1950s.

Tommy Kono, who trained with York Barbell in the 1950s and won two Olympic gold medals in weightlifting, died on April 24 in Honolulu at the age of 85, according to multiple reports.

Monday, May 2, 2016--The "Muscletown" mural depicting weightlifting greats Tommy Kono (center) , Bob Hoffman, left, and John Grimek, is mounted on the building housing Marketview Arts at 37  West Philadelphia St.  Olympic medalist Kono trained at York Barbell during the 1950s when he set several records. He died April 24 in Honolulu. Bill Kalina photo

His daughter, JoAnn Sumida, told The New York Times that the cause of death was hepatic encephalopathy caused by cirrhosis.

Kono, who was born in Sacramento and set multiple world records, famously took up the sport of weightlifting as a boy while being held in a Japanese-American internment camp in northern California.

Carol and Cliff Hoenstine of Conewago Township pass the "Muscletown" mural depicting Tommy Kono (center) and other weightlifters as the couple descends steps at the West Philadelphia St. Parking Garage Monday, May 2, 2016. Olympic medalist Kono trained at York Barbell during the 1950s when he set several records The mural hangs on a building that houses Marketview Arts. Kono died in Hololulu April 24. Bill Kalina photo

Kono is memorialized in a mural in downtown York displaying York as "Muscletown, USA," along with Bob Hoffman, York Barbell's founder, and John Grimek, a York native who won the first two Mr. America bodybuilding events.

Hoffman died in 1985, and Grimek died in 1998.

Jan Dellinger, a former member of York Barbell's magazine staff, said he used to give tours of the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame in Emigsville, where photos of Kono are prominently displayed, and met Kono several times.

FILE - In this May 17, 1958, file photo, Tommy Kono, of the United States, competes in a weightlifting match between the U.S. team and a visiting Russian team in New York. Kono, who took up weightlifting in an internment camp for the Japanese and went on to win two Olympic gold medals for the United States, has died. The U.S. Olympic Committee announced that Kono died Sunday, April 24, in Honolulu. His daughter, JoAnn Sumida, told The New York Times the cause was complications from liver disease. He was 85. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler, File)

"He was probably America's greatest weightlifter, but on top of that, he's very nice," Dellinger said. "He was a great spokesman for weightlifting and probably just humanity in general."

Dellinger described Kono as the "Tom Brady of weightlifting" during his prime, or Peyton Manning, depending on preference. He recalled a period during the mid-'60s when Kono won six consecutive world championships at his weight class.

"He had a real blend of physical skills," he said.

Kono, who had asthma growing up, originally trained just "to be healthy," according to The New York Times.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com.