American decathlete Rafer Johnson has many distinctions to his name. He was the first Black captain of a United States Olympic team in 1960 and won the decathlon gold that year
American decathlete Rafer Johnson in a photo from 2017. (Reuters Photo)
- Rafer Johnson had won the silver medal in 1956 Melbourne Games
- He followed that up with a historic gold medal at the 1960 Rome Games
- Johnson also played a crucial role in bringing the 1984 Olympics to Los Angeles
American legend Rafer Johnson, who won the gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics for the decathlon event, and was considered by many to be the ‘World’s Greatest Athlete’, died on Wednesday at the age of 86 at his home in Los Angeles.
Johnson has many distinctions to his name, he was the first Black captain of a United States Olympic team in 1960, and followed up his silver medal from four years ago with a historic gold in Rome.
He also played a crucial role in bringing the 1984 Olympics to Los Angeles, by being the founding member of LA84 Foundation. His death was confirmed by the organisation on Wednesday, who added that he passed away at his home in Los Angeles surrounded by family.
“Our sense of loss is only eclipsed by the gratitude we will always feel for the opportunity to work so closely with Rafer. He embodied the Olympic Movement,” said Peter Ueberroth, CEO of the 1984 Summer Olympics who chose Johnson to light the torch for those Games.
“There are so many lives he touched and improved as a true hero who cared deeply for others. Each day we are focused on honoring his legacy.”
His greatest sporting achievement came in the 1960 Rome Games, where he claimed the gold ahead of training partner C.K. Yang of Taiwan with an Olympic record score.
The achievement earned Johnson the AAU James E. Sullivan Award as the most outstanding amateur athlete in the United States, putting his picture on the cover of Time and Sport Illustrated magazines.
Johnson was a fine all-round sportsman. He was drafted by the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams as a running back in 1959 and played basketball at UCLA under legendary coach John Wooden.
Johnson turned to acting after his athletics career.
Among his credits were parts in the Elvis Presley film Wild in the Country and the James Bond movie License to Kill.