Olympic Decathlon Champ Rafer Johnson Dead At 86

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Rafer Johnson, who received the decathlon at the 1960 Rome Olympics and aided subdue Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin in 1968, died Wednesday. He was 86.

He died at his residence in the Sherman Oaks part of Los Angeles, according to spouse and children friend Michael Roth. No bring about of death was declared.

Johnson was among the world’s greatest athletes from 1955 via his Olympic triumph in 1960, profitable a nationwide decathlon championship in 1956 and a silver medal at the Melbourne Olympics that same year.

His Olympic occupation included carrying the U.S. flag at the 1960 Video games and lighting the torch at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to open up the 1984 Online games. Johnson set entire world documents in the decathlon three unique times amid a fierce rivalry with his UCLA teammate C.K. Yang of Taiwan and Vasily Kuznetsov of the former Soviet Union.

Johnson received a gold medal at the Pan American Video games in 1955 though competing in just his fourth decathlon. At a welcome property satisfy afterward in Kingsburg, California, he set his first entire world file, breaking the mark of two-time Olympic winner and his childhood hero Bob Mathias.

On June 5, 1968, Johnson was performing on Kennedy’s presidential campaign when the Democratic candidate was shot in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Johnson joined previous NFL star Rosey Grier and journalist George Plimpton in apprehending Sirhan Sirhan times following he shot Kennedy, who died the up coming day.

“I understood he did everything he could to get treatment of Uncle Bobby at his most susceptible moment,” Kennedy’s niece, Maria Shriver, claimed by phone. “His devotion to Uncle Bobby was pure and actual. He experienced safeguarded his friend. Even just after Uncle Bobby’s dying he stayed shut.”

Johnson later termed the assassination “one of the most devastating moments in my life.”

Born Rafer Lewis Johnson on Aug. 18, 1934, in Hillsboro, Texas, he moved to California in 1945 with his household, together with his brother Jim, a upcoming NFL Corridor of Fame inductee. Even though some sources cite Johnson’s birth 12 months as 1935, the loved ones has explained that is incorrect.

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

Johnson was a standout university student and played football, basketball, baseball and monitor and discipline at Kingsburg Joint Union Higher. At 6-foot-3 and 200-moreover kilos, he seemed far more like a linebacker than a monitor and discipline athlete.

In the course of his junior 12 months of significant university, Johnson’s mentor took him to Tulare to watch Mathias contend in a decathlon, an experience Johnson later on said spurred him to consider up the grueling 10-event sport.

As a freshman at UCLA, the place he received tutorial and athletic scholarships, Johnson gained gold at the the 1955 Pan Am Games, and established a environment record of 7,985 factors.

Following winning the nationwide decathlon championship in 1956, Johnson was the favourite for the Olympics in Melbourne, but pulled a abdomen muscle mass and strained a knee though training. He was forced to withdraw from the lengthy jump, for which he had also capable, but attempted to gut out the decathlon.

Johnson’s teammate Milt Campbell, a virtual unfamiliar, gave the effectiveness of his life, finishing with 7,937 factors to acquire gold, 350 forward of Johnson.

It was the final time Johnson would ever occur in next.

Johnson, Yang, and Kuznetzov experienced their way with the report books in between the 1956 and 1960 Olympics.

Kuznetzov, a two-time Olympic bronze medalist who the Soviets identified as their “man of metal,” broke Johnson’s environment history in Might 1958 with 8,016 points.

Later on that year at a U.S.-Soviet dual satisfy in Moscow, Johnson conquer Kuznetzov by 405 points and reclaimed the entire world record with 8,302 details. Johnson received over the Soviet audience with his gutsy effectiveness in entrance of what experienced been a hostile group.

A motor vehicle incident and subsequent back damage stored Johnson out of competitiveness throughout 1959, but he was balanced once more for the Olympics in 1960.

Yang was his key competitors in Rome. Yang won six of the first nine events, but Johnson led by 66 factors likely into the 1,500 meters, the decathlon’s closing celebration.

Johnson had to complete within 10 seconds of Yang, which was no little feat as Yang was substantially more powerful operating at length than Johnson.

Johnson finished just 1.2 seconds and six yards at the rear of Yang to acquire the gold. Yang earned silver and Kuznetsov took bronze.

At UCLA, Johnson played basketball for coach John Wooden, getting to be a starter on the 1958-59 group. In 1958, he was elected pupil human body president, the third Black to maintain the office environment in college history.

“He stood for what he thought in and he did it in a quite elegant way with grace and dignity,” Olympic winner swimmer Janet Evans stated by cell phone.

Evans past noticed Johnson, who attended her 2004 wedding day, at a luncheon in his honor in May possibly 2019.

“We have been all there to fete him and he just didn’t want to be in the highlight,” she said. “That was just one of the matters I loved about him. He didn’t want credit score.”

Johnson retired from level of competition following the Rome Olympics. He started acting in movies, which includes appearances in “Wild in the Country” with Elvis Presley, “None But the Brave” with Frank Sinatra and the 1989 James Bond movie “License to Eliminate.” He worked briefly as a Tv sportscaster before starting to be a vice president at Continental Phone in 1971.

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

“Standing there and hunting out, I remember considering ‘I would like I had a digicam,’” Johnson reported. “My hair was standing straight up on my arm. Phrases seriously appear inadequate.”

All over his daily life, Johnson was widely regarded for his humanitarian endeavours.

He served on the organizing committee of the to start with Distinctive Olympics in Chicago in 1968, functioning with founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Johnson launched California Distinctive Olympics the pursuing 12 months at a time when beneficial function styles for the intellectually and physically disabled were being unusual.

“Rafer really paved the route for lots of of us to have an understanding of the responsibilities that come with staying a thriving athlete and the variety of life you can impression and adjust,” Evans stated.

Maria Shriver recalled conference Johnson for the to start with time at age 10 or 11 via her mother Eunice.

“He and I joked that I have been in enjoy with him at any time given that,” she claimed. “He truly was an remarkable man, these types of a loving, gracious, classy, humble person who handled his achievements in this sort of a stunning way and stayed so correct to himself during his existence.”

Peter Ueberroth, who selected Johnson to gentle the Olympic torch in 1984, termed him “just one particular great individual, a great human becoming.”

Johnson labored for the Peace Corps, March of Dimes, Muscular Dystrophy Affiliation and American Red Cross. In 2016, he received the UCLA Medal, the university’s highest award for extraordinary achievements. The school’s track is named for Johnson and his wife Betsy.

His little ones, Jenny Johnson Jordan and Josh Johnson, were being athletes on their own. Jenny was a beach volleyball player who competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and is on the coaching personnel of UCLA’s beach volleyball crew. Josh competed in javelin at UCLA, the place he was an All-American.

Aside from his spouse of 49 decades and little ones, he is survived by son-in-regulation Kevin Jordan and 4 grandchildren.

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