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Medal record
Men's Athletics
Competitor for the  United States
Olympic Games
Gold 1960 Rome Decathlon
Silver 1956 Melbourne Decathlon
Pan American Games
Gold 1955 Mexico City Decathlon

Rafer Lewis Johnson (born August 18, 1935) is an American former decathlete and film actor.

Contents

Biography

Johnson was born in Hillsboro, Texas, but moved to Kingsburg, California at age 9. In high school, he played on the school's football, baseball and basketball teams. As a versatile athlete, he was attracted to the decathlon after seeing double Olympic Champion Bob Mathias compete and told his coach "I could have beaten most of those guys in that meet". He competed in his first meet in 1954, as a freshman at UCLA. His progress in the event was impressive, and he broke the world record in his fourth competition. He also pledged Pi Lambda Phi Fraternity, America's first nondiscriminatory fraternity while at UCLA. In 1955, in Mexico City, he won the title at the Pan American Games. Johnson qualified for both the decathlon and the long jump events for the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. However, he was hampered by an injury, and forfeited his place in the long jump. Despite this, he managed to take second place in the decathlon, finishing behind his compatriot Milt Campbell. It would turn out to be his last defeat in the event.

Due to injury, Johnson missed the 1957 and 1959 seasons (the latter due to a car accident), but in 1958 and 1960, he improved the world record two more times. The crown on his career came in 1960, at the Rome Olympics. His most important opponent was Yang Chuan-Kwang of Taiwan. Yang also studied at UCLA, and the two were training together and had become friends, training under UCLA track coach Elvin C. "Ducky" Drake. After nine events, Johnson led Yang, but Yang was thought to be capable of overcoming this gap in the final event, the 1500 m. Johnson however managed to cling on to Yang, and won the gold.

At UCLA, Johnson also played basketball under coach John Wooden, and was a starter on the 1959-60 Men's Basketball team.[1]

Johnson was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year in 1958[2] and won the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States in 1960, breaking that award's color barrier. In 1994, he was elected into the first class of the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame. In 1998, he was named one of ESPN's 100 Greatest North American Athletes of the 20th Century. In 2006, the NCAA named him one of the 100 Most Influential Student Athletes of the past 100 years.[3]

After this gold medal, Johnson ended his athletic career. In 1960, he began acting in motion pictures and worked as a sportscaster. In the 1963-1964 season, he appeared on an episode of ABCs drama about college life, Channing starring Jason Evers and Henry Jones. In 1968, he worked on the presidential election campaign of Robert F. Kennedy and helped wrestle Sirhan Sirhan to the floor immediately after Sirhan assassinated Kennedy. Sixteen years later, he was chosen to ignite the Olympic Flame during the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Johnson made several film appearances including the James Bond film Licence to Kill as a DEA agent.

Johnson's autobiography, "The Best That I Can Be" was published in 1998.

Johnson's brother, Jimmy, is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and his daughter, Jennifer, competed in beach volleyball at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney following her collegiate career at UCLA.

Rafer Johnson Junior High School in Kingsburg, Ca. is named after Johnson, as are Rafer Johnson Community Day School in Bakersfield, CA and Rafer Johnson Children's Center in Bakersfield, CA. This last school, which has classes for special education students from the ages of Birth-5, also puts on an annual Rafer Johnson Day. Every year Rafer speaks at the event and cheers on hundreds of students with significant special needs as they participate in a variety of track and field events.

Rafer Johnson is the spokesperson for Hershey's Track & Field Games.

Rafer Johnson is very involved in Special Olympics Southern California, having been one of the founding members.

On August 25, 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver announced that Johnson would be one of 13 California Hall of Fame inductees in The California Museum's yearlong exhibit. The induction ceremony is on December 1, 2009 in Sacramento, California.

Rafer Johnson is a member of The Pigskin Club of Washington, D.C. National Intercollegiate All-American Football Players Honor Roll.

Rafer Weigel, Sports correspondent for CNN, is named after Johnson as well as current NBA player Rafer Alston.

See also

References

Further reading

  • Maraniss, David (2008). Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed The World. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 1416534083.  

External links

Olympic Games
Preceded by
Norman Cohn-Armitage
Flagbearer for  United States
Rome 1960
Succeeded by
Parry O'Brien
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Sweden Ingemar Johansson
Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year
1960
Succeeded by
United States Roger Maris
Preceded by
West Germany Martin Lauer
Track & Field Athlete of the Year
1960
Succeeded by
United States Ralph Boston
Records
Preceded by
United States Bob Mathias
Men's Decathlon World Record Holder
June 11, 1955 – May 18, 1958
Succeeded by
Soviet Union Vassily Kuznetsov
Preceded by
Soviet Union Vassily Kuznetsov
Men's Decathlon World Record Holder
July 28, 1958 – May 17, 1959
Succeeded by
Soviet Union Vassily Kuznetsov
Preceded by
Soviet Union Vassily Kuznetsov
Men's Decathlon World Record Holder
July 9, 1960 – April 28, 1963
Succeeded by
Chinese Taipei Yang Chuan-Kwang
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