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Rafer Johnson, 1960 Olympic Decathlon Champion, Dies At 86

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LOS ANGELES: Rafer Johnson, who gained the decathlon on the 1960 Rome Olympics and helped subdue Robert F. Kennedys murderer in 1968, died Wednesday. He was 86.

He died at his residence within the Sherman Oaks part of Los Angeles, in keeping with household pal Michael Roth. No reason behind demise was introduced.

Johnson was among the many worlds best athletes from 1955 by way of his Olympic triumph in 1960, profitable a nationwide decathlon championship in 1956 and a silver medal on the Melbourne Olympics that very same yr.

His Olympic profession included carrying the U.S. flag on the 1960 Games and lighting the torch on the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to open the 1984 Games. Johnson set world information within the decathlon three totally different instances amid a fierce rivalry along with his UCLA teammate C.Okay. Yang of Taiwan and Vasily Kuznetsov of the previous Soviet Union.

Johnson gained a gold medal on the Pan American Games in 1955 whereas competing in simply his fourth decathlon. At a welcome residence meet afterward in Kingsburg, California, he set his first world document, breaking the mark of two-time Olympic champion and his childhood hero Bob Mathias.

On June 5, 1968, Johnson was engaged on Kennedy’s presidential marketing campaign when the Democratic candidate was shot within the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Johnson joined former NFL star Rosey Grier and journalist George Plimpton in apprehending Sirhan Sirhan moments after he shot Kennedy, who died the following day.

Johnson later known as the assassination one of the devastating moments in my life.

Born Rafer Lewis Johnson on Aug. 18, 1934, in Hillsboro, Texas, he moved to California in 1945 along with his household, together with his brother Jim, a future NFL Hall of Fame inductee. Although some sources cite Johnson’s delivery yr as 1935, the household has stated that’s incorrect.

They ultimately settled in Kingsburg, close to Fresno within the San Joaquin Valley. It was lower than 25 miles from Tulare, the hometown of Mathias, who would win the decathlon on the 1948 and 1952 Olympics and show an early inspiration to Johnson.

Johnson was a standout scholar and performed soccer, basketball, baseball and monitor and area at Kingsburg Joint Union High. At 6-foot-Three and 200-plus kilos, he seemed extra like a linebacker than a monitor and area athlete.

During his junior yr of highschool, Johnsons coach took him to Tulare to observe Mathias compete in a decathlon, an expertise Johnson later stated spurred him to take up the grueling 10-event sport.

As a freshman at UCLA, the place he obtained educational and athletic scholarships, Johnson gained gold on the the 1955 Pan Am Games, and set a world document of seven,985 factors.

After profitable the nationwide decathlon championship in 1956, Johnson was the favourite for the Olympics in Melbourne, however pulled a abdomen muscle and strained a knee whereas coaching. He was pressured to withdraw from the lengthy bounce, for which he had additionally certified, however tried to intestine out the decathlon.

Johnsons teammate Milt Campbell, a digital unknown, gave the efficiency of his life, ending with 7,937 factors to win gold, 350 forward of Johnson.

It was the final time Johnson would ever are available in second.

Johnson, Yang, and Kuznetzov had their approach with the document books between the 1956 and 1960 Olympics.

Kuznetzov, a two-time Olympic bronze medalist who the Soviets known as their man of metal, broke Johnsons world document in May 1958 with 8,016 factors.

Later that yr at a U.S.-Soviet twin meet in Moscow, Johnson beat Kuznetzov by 405 factors and reclaimed the world document with 8,302 factors. Johnson gained over the Soviet viewers along with his gutsy efficiency in entrance of what had been a hostile crowd.

A automotive accident and subsequent again harm stored Johnson out of competitors throughout 1959, however he was wholesome once more for the Olympics in 1960.

Yang was his major competitors in Rome. Yang gained six of the primary 9 occasions, however Johnson led by 66 factors going into the 1,500 meters, the decathlons closing occasion.

Johnson needed to end inside 10 seconds of Yang, which was no small feat as Yang was a lot stronger operating at distance than Johnson.

Johnson completed simply 1.2 seconds and 6 yards behind Yang to win the gold. Yang earned silver and Kuznetsov took bronze.

He was named The Associated Press Athlete of the Year and gained the Sullivan Award because the nation’s excellent novice athlete in 1960.

At UCLA, Johnson performed basketball for coach John Wooden, turning into a starter on the 1958-59 staff. In 1958, he was elected scholar physique president, the third Black to carry the workplace in class historical past.

Johnson retired from competitors after the Rome Olympics. He started appearing in films, together with appearances in Wild within the Country with Elvis Presley, None But the Brave with Frank Sinatra and the 1989 James Bond movie License to Kill. He labored briefly as a TV sportscaster earlier than turning into a vp at Continental Telephone in 1971.

In 1984 Johnson lit the Olympic flame for the Los Angeles Games. He took the torch from Gina Hemphill, granddaughter of Olympic nice Jesse Owens, who ran it into the Coliseum.

“Standing there and looking out, I remember thinking I wish I had a camera,” Johnson stated. “My hair was standing straight up on my arm. Words really seem inadequate.”

Throughout his life, Johnson was broadly recognized for his humanitarian efforts.

He served on the organizing committee of the primary Special Olympics in Chicago in 1968, working with founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Johnson went on to discovered California Special Olympics the next yr at a time when optimistic position fashions for the intellectually and bodily disabled have been uncommon.

Peter Ueberroth, who selected Johnson to mild the Olympic torch in 1984, known as him only one nice individual, a fabulous human being.

Johnson labored for the Peace Corps, March of Dimes, Muscular Dystrophy Association and American Red Cross. He remained energetic for a few years at UCLA, serving on numerous committees and boards. In 2016, he obtained the UCLA Medal, the college’s highest award for extraordinary accomplishments. The college’s monitor is called for Johnson and his spouse Betsy.

His youngsters, Jenny Johnson Jordan and Josh Johnson, have been athletes themselves. Jenny was a seaside volleyball participant who competed within the 2000 Sydney Olympics and is on the teaching workers of UCLA’s seaside volleyball staff. Josh competed in javelin at UCLA, the place he was an All-American.

Besides his spouse of 49 years and youngsters, he’s survived by son-in-law Kevin Jordan and 4 grandchildren.


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