Championship Weightlifting by Tommy Kono: Book Excerpt
Tommy Kono

We were fortunate enough to get a preview from Tommy Kono of his upcoming second book, expected out later this year. As the following article explains, this new book will delve into the mental game of weightlifting—lessons that can surely be applied to any sport. Kono was one of the greatest weightlifters in the sport, and his insights are invaluable.
—Greg Everett

I won two Olympic gold medals, one silver, was eight consecutive years World Champion, set 26 world records spread over 4 bodyweight classes, was not subsidized, did not have fancy training quarters, coaches, or any of the advantages of today. How did I do it? How did I beat the world? I knew that lifting is more than muscle power. It is mental power. My second book tells you how to increase your mental power to make yourself lift at the championship level.

As the following brief story explains, you will learn that I was not a gifted or talented child nor born to a wealthy family. I had many “ups and downs” while growing up and during the developmental years of my weightlifting career. Nothing came easy for me.

When I was in grade school I often wondered why I was a victim of asthmatic attacks when none of my friends or classmates had asthma. My three older brothers were robust in health and so were my parents. I missed almost a third of school so I was placed in the slow learners class.

I grew up in the 1930s depression era in the lower end of Sacramento, California and when WW II broke out, my family, along with all the other Japanese-Americans on the West Coast, was interned in relocation camps. With 3½ years in a barbed wire compound living in barracks with military sentries posted in watchtowers, I felt socially out of place when I returned to my hometown after the war. I was 15½ years of age and returning to “civilization” was like an immigrant setting residence in a new country.

Camp internment did improve my health, and it was while in camp that my next-door neighbor, who was into weight training, introduced me to barbell and dumbbell training. Before returning to my hometown, I had had a year of weight training behind me so my strength level had improved and my formerly thin body had filled out somewhat so that gave me more confidence.

Training with weights and reading the monthly Strength & Health magazine did much to influence me in a positive way during my high school and Junior College years. From the senior year of high school when I entered my first weightlifting contest, I improved so rapidly that within 26 months, at the Pacific Coast Championships, I had made the highest total (780 lb.) in the world of anyone at my bodyweight in the 67.5 kg. class. The 1950 World Championships was won with 777 lbs.

I missed making the 1950 U.S. World Championship Team because 3 days before the U.S. Team Try-out, my mother passed away; so instead of competing in the Trials, I had to fly home.

The following year I was determined to improve my lifting even more but the Korean Conflict called me to military service. This curbed my weightlifting training completely for military “Basic Training” allows no time for any other activity for 11 weeks. After my Basic Training, I took the option of becoming a cook in the Army so I could cook every other day and be able to train on my off duty days. This worked fine until the North Koreans started to target the cooks. The U.S. Army was known to “move on its’ stomach” and without warm food it was assumed the U.S. soldiers would be demoralized. The cooks were either getting killed or injured and needed to be replaced.

I reported to Camp Stoneman where the troop gathered to be sent overseas, but, in reporting for duty, I was informed that I was taken off the list because I was “a candidate for the Olympic Team.” I suspect Coach Bob Hoffman must have put in a good word for me in Washington, D.C. that gave me the opportunity to make the 1952 U.S. Olympic Team. Evidently the U.S. Army thought I’d be of better service to the U.S. at the Olympic Games than “up front” as a cook. Anyway, what could have been hazardous duty of war was now turned to a mission of representing the U.S. on the international stage at the Olympic Games.

I won the gold medal at the Helsinki Olympics, but my military orders received just a few days before my competition date notified me to be stationed in West Germany to fulfill my overseas duty for the remainder of my military term.

I made the best of the situation while in Germany by giving exhibitions as a “guest lifter” to the German “league competitions,” a weightlifting competition among the various weightlifting clubs that was held on Saturday evenings.

I learned much from taking part in these weekly lifting sessions and it helped me understand and refine the training process for improving continuously. I was fortunate to have an Olympic lifting set where I was assigned but nothing else… no squat racks or a lifting platform and the Olympic set had iron plates. Yet, by being resourceful and innovative in my training, every time I performed on weekends, I equaled or exceeded the middleweight Olympic record total of 880 lbs.

With an Olympic gold medal and many exhibitions and a few international contests behind me, I returned to the U.S. for Army discharge. I was more confident in myself than when I left for Helsinki, Finland for the Olympic Games 10 months before.

My basic personality did not change because of the added experiences and exposure, but I did learn one thing; we should all strive to keep improving ourselves no matter what happens and that adversities and hindrances are there to challenge our mettle and to make us better, stronger persons. It is in accepting that challenge that makes us persevere for the bigger goals of life.

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

My first book, Weightlifting, Olympic Style, is what I consider a textbook on the Olympic lifts and it covers lifting technique to training programs and contest preparation with examples and stories related to actual performances.

The second book, Championship Weightlifting, covers the mental and psychological side of Olympic weightlifting and expounds on the approach to overcome the barriers that hold us back from progressing. Originally intended for coaches and elite lifters, I realized that the mental approach must be nurtured from the very beginning; so after several years of writing, I decided to rewrite some of the previous materials so it will be helpful to beginners as well.

In Championship Olympic Weightlifting, 50% is mental, 30% technique and 20% power. Most everyone has this in the reverse order of importance and spend too many hours in hard physical training but hardly any time in grooming his or her mind for the sport. This second book emphasizes how important the mental aspect has on Olympic weightlifting

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Tommy Kono won Olympic medals in three different weight classes from 1952 to 1960: gold in lightweight, gold in light heavyweight, silver in middleweight. He also set world records in four different weight classes, an amazing accomplishment by today's standards. Besides winning world class Olympic weightlifting competitions, he was also a physique champion, winning the "Mr. Universe" title three times.

After retiring from competition, Kono became a successful lifting coach, training the Mexican national teams from 1966 - 1969 and then coaching the West German national teams from 1969 through 1972. He also coached the first three U.S. women's weight-lifting teams. He led the women to a second-place finish in the first world championship in 1987, and two more runner-up finishes in subsequent world championships.

Read more by Tommy Kono

lil t 2012-02-02
he is the best
Stephen 2014-01-02
In his book Tommy mentioned that he wrote 24 pages on the overhead press. Do you know if he has ever published them?
Beth Terry 2019-02-19
I'm in that book! Loved Tommy so much! He was the best coach I've ever seen in my life. I quote him all the time. He included the story I published in my book about him. We honored him at a special event in Hawaii after it came out.
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