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Rafer Johnson (1934–2020), Olympic decathlon legend

by Kirk Fox

Rafer Johnson won the decathlon gold medal at the 1960 Olympic games in Rome and was the first Black American to be the flag bearer for the U.S. Olympic team.

  • Died: Wednesday, December 2, 2020. (Who else died on December 2?)
  • Details of death: Died of a stroke at the age of 86 in Los Angeles.
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Rafer Johnson was dubbed the world’s greatest athlete in 1960 when he won the decathlon gold medal at the 1960 Olympic games in Rome. Johnson ran a personal best in the 1500 meters, giving him the gold. He had previously won the silver medal in the decathlon at the 1956 Olympics. Johnson later became an actor, starring in the Elvis Presley (1935 – 1977) film “Wild in the Country.” He worked for Robert F. Kennedy’s (1925 – 1968) presidential campaign and helped to apprehend Sirhan Sirhan with former football star Rosey Grier after he assassinated Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Johnson co-founded the California Special Olympics and was selected to light the Olympic flame at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

Advocate for good sportsmanship

“It seems funny to say winning is not all-important — I always want to win, and no one likes to lose.” “But when you start out on the field, everyone is equal. That is the important idea.” – Los Angeles Times


Tributes to Rafer Johnson

Full Obituary: Los Angeles Times

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