Rafer Johnson, who carried the American flag into Rome’s Olympic Stadium in August 1960 as the primary Black captain of a United States Olympic staff and went on to win gold in a memorable decathlon duel, bringing him acclaim because the world’s biggest all-around athlete, died on Wednesday at his dwelling within the Sherman Oaks part of Los Angeles.
A household buddy, Michael Roth, confirmed the demise to The Related Press. No trigger was given. Sources differ on whether or not Johnson was 85 or 86.
Johnson by no means competed after that decathlon triumph. He turned a good-will ambassador for america and a detailed affiliate of the Kennedy household, taking a management function within the Particular Olympics, which have been championed by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and becoming a member of Robert F. Kennedy’s entourage throughout Kennedy’s presidential marketing campaign in 1968. He was remembered particularly for serving to to wrestle the senator’s murderer to the bottom in Los Angeles in 1968.
Johnson’s nationwide profile was largely molded on the 1960 Olympics, one of the vital celebrated within the historical past of the Video games, a second when a number of African-American athletes burst triumphantly onto the world stage. Muhammad Ali, identified then as Cassius Clay, captured boxing gold within the light-heavyweight division. Wilma Rudolph swept to victory within the ladies’s 100- and 200-meter dashes and mixed along with her Tennessee State teammates for gold within the 4-x-100 relay. Oscar Robertson helped take america basketball staff to a gold medal.
Johnson’s slender decathlon victory over C.Ok. Yang of Taiwan and U.C.L.A., a great buddy, offered an exhilarating second in its personal proper.
Johnson, a 25-year-old graduate of U.C.L.A. and a chiseled 6 toes 3 inches and 200 kilos, was the favourite going into the two-day decathlon, a 10-event take a look at of versatility, power, pace and endurance that included sprints, excessive hurdles, pole-vaulting, the excessive bounce and broad bounce, the javelin and discus throws, and the 1,500-meter run.
He had received silver within the decathlon on the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, ending behind Milt Campbell of the U.S., who turned to professional soccer afterward. He had bested Vasily Kuznetsov of the Soviet Union at a meet at Lenin Stadium in Moscow in 1958, inspiring spectators to place apart Chilly Struggle points and cheer his achievement. And he scored a world-record 8,683 factors within the decathlon on the 1960 Olympic monitor and discipline trials in Oregon.
However he confronted a stiff problem in Rome from the 27-year-old Yang, who was representing Formosa, the Olympic designation on the time for Taiwanese athletes. Each have been educated by Elvin Drake, referred to as Ducky, the U.C.L.A. monitor and discipline coach.
The decathlon duel was determined in its remaining occasion, the 1,500 meters, wherein Yang was particularly robust. Johnson, main on factors, didn’t need to win the occasion to seize the gold medal, however he did want to complete inside 10 seconds of Yang.
“I deliberate to stay with him like a buddy in fight,” Johnson instructed The Los Angeles Occasions in 1990. “I had one different benefit, and I don’t suppose C.Ok. knew this on the time. This was my final decathlon. I used to be ready to run as quick as I needed to on this final race of my life.”
Yang, who died in 2007, recalled, “I knew he would by no means let go of me except he collapsed.” Johnson completed 1.2 seconds behind Yang, ok to seize gold, with Yang getting silver and Kuznetsov capturing bronze.
Johnson later acquired the 1960 Sullivan Award as America’s main beginner athlete. After that, he launched into new chapters in his life.
He met Robert Kennedy at an awards ceremony quickly after the Rome Video games and have become a part of the senator’s marketing campaign for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination.
He was escorting a pregnant Ethel Kennedy by way of a crowd of supporters on the Ambassador Lodge in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968 — moments after her husband had claimed victory within the California Democratic main — when Kennedy was fatally shot by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant who had been offended at Kennedy for his help of Israel.
Johnson and his fellow Kennedy supporter Roosevelt Grier, the previous star defensive deal with for the Giants and the Los Angeles Rams, helped subdue Sirhan.
“My hand clamped down on the weapon,” Johnson recalled in his memoir, “The Finest That I Can Be” (1998, with Philip Goldberg). “Rosey’s hand got here down on mine. With a dozen others pushing and shoving, we pressured Sirhan onto a steam desk, then to the ground. I twisted Sirhan’s fingers to unlock the weapon.”
Rafer Lewis Johnson was born on Aug. 18 in both 1934 or 1935 in Hillsboro, Texas, south of Dallas. His household briefly lived in Dallas after which escaped segregation by shifting to the city of Kingsburg in California’s agricultural San Joaquin Valley, the place his father, Lewis, held jobs in meals processing.
Johnson excelled in soccer, basketball and baseball in addition to monitor and discipline in highschool, however he centered on the decathlon, impressed by seeing the Olympic gold-medalist Bob Mathias in motion in close by Tulare, Calif.
He entered U.C.L.A. in 1954 and performed for the famend coach John Picket’s basketball staff there whereas coaching for decathlons. He additionally turned president of the coed physique.
His Olympic triumph behind him, Johnson visited many international locations within the early Sixties as a good-will ambassador for the State Division. He acted on tv reveals and in Hollywood films, together with “Wild within the Nation” (1961) with Elvis Presley and Tuesday Weld. He was additionally a sports activities broadcaster in Los Angeles.
In 1968, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a driving pressure within the creation of the Particular Olympics for folks with mental and bodily disabilities, drew Johnson into the group. He turned a founding father of its Southern California chapter and was later named its chairman. He additionally did promotional work for Hershey, Reebok and different corporations.
Johnson and spouse, Elizabeth, had two kids, Josh and Jennifer-Johnson-Jordan, who was a member of the U.S. ladies’s seashore volleyball staff within the 2000 Sydney Olympics. His brother, Jim, was a cornerback for the San Francisco 49ers and was inducted into the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame. Full details about survivors was not instantly obtainable.
Johnson’s remaining second within the Olympic highlight got here when he climbed a precarious 99 steps on the Los Angeles Coliseum to mild the caldron for the 1984 Video games.
“I used to be, in a way, an Olympian once more, getting ready to will my physique to do one thing distinctive,” he wrote in his memoir. “Was I involved about making it to the highest of the steps? Sure. Was I occupied with whether or not I’d journey or fall? Sure. Did I’ve any doubt that I’d come by way of? No.”