Mr. Kono, in your book I read that you were a sickly child and that
weightlifting made you strong and healthy. I'm curious at what point
you felt that you had overcome the sickness of your childhood?
I was asthmatic and also allergic to hay. I can still have asthmatic
attacks if I let myself become fatigued, lack of sleep for several
days or get near hay and horses.
Tommy Kono stands atop the podium at the 1956 Olympic Games
in Melbourne, Australia.
Was there a distinct point when you first
began to think that you could become one of the greatest lifters
of all time?
I had no aspiration to be a champion lifter even after entering
my first contest. I trained because it improved my health and
added some muscles on my skinny body. It was toward the end of
my second year of competing did I entertain the idea of being
a national champion.
In everything I've read about you, I've
noticed that you place an emphasis on "quality training".
Could you tell me about this philosophy towards training?
Whether in bodybuilding or Olympic weightlifting, you have to
"feel" the movement. Too many are carried away and all
they can think of is performing 10 reps with heavy weights or
lift a heavy barbell overhead. Quality Training is to make certain
you perform the movement correctly so you get the most out of
the time and effort you expend in doing the exercise.
Did you ever have any injuries during your
career that you had to work around? What was your strategy for
dealing with setbacks?
I have had injuries to my fingers, wrists, shoulders and knees
at one time or another and I performed exercises that did not
employ the injured body part. When my one knee was bad I avoided
all leg work for three months and performed all upper body exercises.
This is when my Pressing strength really improved to the point
of my Pressing 350 lb. for a world record. My problem then became
that of being able to Clean the weight for the Press. Sometime
an injury could be a blessing in disguise.
Olympic lifting is starting to get much
more popular in the athletic community. What benefits do you think
athletes will receive from learning the Olympic lifts?
The practice of Olympic lifting enhances the athletic ability
of a person because the lifts demand dynamic, explosive movement
to elevate heavy weights overhead. The carry-over value for other
sports is immeasurable.
Tommy Kono is pictured here at the completion of a snatch.
When you train beginners in the Olympic
lifts, such as an athlete in another sport, what is the progression
you run them through?
Section I of my book covers this thoroughly for it stresses a
strong back arch, loose shoulders and flexible hips, knees and
ankles. The athlete needs to learn how to safely lose a barbell
from overhead position before they begin to learn the competitive
I've seen numerous references to a study
of Olympic athletes that was done in 1964, in which it was reported
that weightlifters had the best vertical jumps and short times
of any athletes. However, I have not been able to find the original
study. Have you heard of this study or had any experiences that
might indicate it is true?
At 5'6 I used to stand bare feet under a basketball rim and jump
and touch the rim to win bets. I used no running start but just
a quick squat down while swinging my right arm upwards and touching
the rim. For the basketball players of 6'2 this is nothing but
for someone my height jumping 10 ft. high is proof that lifting
improved my vertical jump. I was adept at the long jump too.
What was your mental approach to lifting?
Did you do anything in particular before you stepped onto the
platform to approach the bar?
The ability to concentrate on the task at hand and have nothing
distract you, is critical in any contest. In Olympic lifting your
focus have to be on using exacting technique to make any lift.
Tommy Kono competing in the Mr. Universe competition.
As a record holder in four of the seven
weight classes, I'm curious what type of diet you were on to move
up through the weight classes? Did your diet change before physique
competitions, such as Mr. Universe?
Gaining weight meant eating more often. By nature I was not meant
to be a large person so my bodyweight could go up to 176 but anything
beyond that was extremely difficult for me. The highest bodyweight
I ever achieved was 186 and I held this bodyweight for about one
week. I spent my early lifting career of 4 years in the 148 lb.
class. While in the military stationed in W. Germany (after the
Helsinki Olympics) I could not keep my bodyweight down with the
army chow so I moved up to the 165 lb. class. Later I lifted at
the Nationals and World Championships in the 181 lb. class but
weighing only 172. I force fed myself so I can go above the 181
lb. class and break record in the 198 lb. class.
When my bodyweight was 165 I had reasonable size and good definition
and because I was in fairly good proportion I was able to project
my posing across to the judges and the audience. My diet then
was rich in protein and green salads with minimal of carbohydrates.
What does America need to do to get back
on top in the world of Olympic weightlifting?
The U.S. lifters have to go back to the American system of training
and not follow what the Europeans are doing. The lifters must
return to basics and not have tonnage or intensity govern their
training. Believe it or not, it is the old system of light, medium
and heavy; training 3 to 4 times a week and each workout lasting
no more than 90 minutes. It is a matter of taxing your muscles
and giving ample time to recover. Too many of our current lifters
are over-trained and getting injuries because they lack the recovery
time. I cover this quite thoroughly in my book.
Finally, you seem to approach weight training
as a way to improve your health. Do you have any advice on healthy
living? Do you still lift weights?
I go to train three times a week in the weight room at the Nuuanu
YMCA. My workouts are not heavy and last about an hour. I perform
2 sets each of 10 exercises that covers my whole body. I am frequently
asked to address various service clubs and senior citizen groups
and I tell all the men and women to start lifting barbells if
they want to improve their health and physical appearance.
Tommy, thank you very much for granting
me this interview. It is a true honor that you would take the
time to do this.
If you are interested in ordering Weightlifting, Olympic Style
by Tommy Kono send a check to:
Hawaii Kono Company
P.O. Box 2192, Aiea
It costs $30, plus $5 for S&H within U.S. S & H becomes
$10 for orders to foreign countries.