Rafer Lewis Johnson (born August 18, 1935) is an American former decathlete and film actor. He was the 1960 Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon, having won silver in 1956. He had previously won a gold in the 1955 Pan American Games. He was the USA team's flag bearer at the 1960 Olympics and lit the Olympic flame at the Los Angeles Games in 1984.
After he retired from athletics, Johnson turned to acting, sportscasting, public service and was instrumental in creating the California Special Olympics. His acting career included appearances in The Sins of Rachel Cade (1961), the Elvis Presley film Wild in the Country (1961), Pirates of Tortuga (1961), None but the Brave (1965), two Tarzan films with Mike Henry, The Last Grenade (1970), Soul Soldier (1970), Roots: The Next Generations (1979), Think Big (1990) and the 1989 James Bond film Licence to Kill, with Timothy Dalton.
Rafer Johnson at the 1960 Olympics
|Full name||Rafer Lewis Johnson|
|Born||August 18, 1935 (age 83)|
Hillsboro, Texas, U.S.
|Height||1.90 m (6 ft 3 in)|
|Weight||91 kg (201 lb)|
|Club||Southern California Striders, Anaheim|
|Achievements and titles|
|Personal best(s)||100 m – 10.3 (1957)|
220 yd – 21.0 (1956)
400 m – 47.9 (1956)
110 mH – 13.8 (1956)
HJ – 1.89 m (1955)
PV – 4.09 m (1960)
LJ – 7.76 m (1956)
SP – 16.75 m (1958)
DT – 52.50 m (1960)
JT – 76.73 m (1960)
Decathlon – 7982 (1960)
Johnson was born in Hillsboro, Texas, but the family moved to Kingsburg, California, when he was 9. For a while, they were the only black family in the town. A versatile athlete, he played on Kingsburg High School's football, baseball and basketball teams. He was also elected class president in both junior high and high school. The Summer between his sophomore and junior years in high school (age 16), his coach Murl Dodson drove Johnson 24 miles (40 km) to Tulare and watched Bob Mathias compete in the 1952 U.S. decathlon olympic trials. Johnson told his coach, "I could have beaten most of those guys." Dodson and Johnson drove back a month later to watch Mathias' victory parade. Weeks later, Johnson competed in a high school invitational decathlon and won the event. He also won the 1953 and 1954 California state high school decathlon meets. 
In 1954 as a freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), his progress in the event was impressive; he broke the world record in his fourth competition. He pledged Pi Lambda Phi fraternity, America's first nondiscriminatory fraternity, and was class president at UCLA. In 1955, in Mexico City, he won the title at the Pan American Games.
Johnson qualified for both the decathlon and the long jump events for the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. However, he was hampered by an injury and forfeited his place in the long jump. Despite this handicap, he managed to take second place in the decathlon behind compatriot Milt Campbell. It would turn out to be his last defeat in the event.
Due to injury, Johnson missed the 1957 and 1959 seasons (the latter due to a car accident), but he broke the world record in 1958 and 1960. The crown to his career came at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. His most serious rival was Yang Chuan-Kwang (C. K. Yang) of Taiwan. Yang also studied at UCLA; the two trained together under UCLA track coach Elvin C. "Ducky" Drake and had become friends. In the decathlon, the lead swung back and forth between them. Finally, after nine events, Johnson led Yang by a small margin, but Yang was known to be better in the final event, the 1500 m. According to The Telegraph (UK), "Legend has it" that Drake gave coaching to both men, with him advising Johnson to stay close to Yang and be ready for "a hellish sprint" at the end, and advising Yang to put as much distance between himself and Johnson before the final sprint as possible. 
Johnson ran his personal best at 4:49.7 and finished just 1.2 sec slower than Yang, winning the gold by 58 points with an Olympic record total of 8,392 points. Both athletes were exhausted and drained and came to a stop a few paces past the finish line leaning against each other for support. With this victory, Johnson ended his athletic career.
At UCLA, Johnson also played basketball under legendary coach John Wooden and was a starter on the 1959–60 men's basketball team. Wooden considered Johnson a great defensive player, but sometimes regretted holding back his teams early in his coaching career, remarking, "imagine Rafer Johnson on the break."
While training for the 1960 Olympics, his friend Kirk Douglas told him about a part in Spartacus that Douglas thought might make him a star: the Ethiopian gladiator Draba, who refuses to kill Spartacus (played by Douglas) after defeating him in a duel. Johnson read for and got the role, but was forced to turn it down because the Amateur Athletic Union told him it would make him a professional and therefore ineligible for the Olympics. The role eventually went to another UCLA great, Woody Strode. In 1960, he began acting in motion pictures and working as a sportscaster. In the 1963–1964 season, he appeared on an episode of ABCs drama about college life, Channing, starring Jason Evers and Henry Jones. Johnson made several film appearances including the James Bond film Licence to Kill as a DEA agent. After his acting career, he worked full-time as a sportscaster in the early 1970s. He weekend sports anchored on the local Los Angeles NBC news, but seemed uncomfortable in that position and eventually moved on to other things.
In 1968, he worked on the presidential election campaign of Robert F. Kennedy, and with the help of Rosey Grier, he apprehended Sirhan Sirhan immediately after Sirhan had assassinated Kennedy. He discusses the experience in his autobiography, The Best That I Can Be (published in 1999 by Galilee Trade Publishing and co-authored with Philip Goldberg).
Rafer Johnson is the spokesperson for Hershey's Track & Field Games and is very involved in Special Olympics Southern California (www.sosc.org). After attending the first Special Olympics competition in Chicago in 1968, conducted by Special Olympics founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, he was inspired to become involved. Johnson, along with a small group of volunteers, then founded California Special Olympics in 1969 by conducting a competition at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for 900 individuals with intellectual disabilities. Following the first California Games in 1969, Johnson became one of the original members of the Board of Directors. The board worked together to raise funds and offer a modest program of swimming and track and field. In 1983, Rafer ran for President of the Board to increase Board participation, reorganize the staff to most effectively use each person's talents and expand fundraising efforts. He was elected president and served in the capacity until 1992, when he was named Chairman of the Board of Governors.
Johnson's brother Jimmy is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and his daughter Jennifer competed in beach volleyball at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney following her collegiate career at UCLA. His son Joshua Johnson followed his father into track and field and had a podium finish in the javelin throw at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
Johnson was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year in 1958 and won the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States in 1960, breaking that award's color barrier. He was chosen to ignite the Olympic Flame during the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. In 1994, he was elected into the first class of the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame. In 1998, he was named one of ESPN's 100 Greatest North American Athletes of the 20th Century. In 2006, the NCAA named him one of the 100 Most Influential Student Athletes of the past 100 years. On August 25, 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver announced that Johnson would be one of 13 California Hall of Fame inductees in The California Museum's yearlong exhibit. The induction ceremony was on December 1, 2009, in Sacramento, California. Johnson is a member of The Pigskin Club of Washington, D.C. National Intercollegiate All-American Football Players Honor Roll. Rafer Johnson Junior High School in Kingsburg, California is named after Johnson, as are Rafer Johnson Community Day School and Rafer Johnson Children's Center, both in Bakersfield, California. This last school, which has classes for special education students from the ages of birth-5, also puts on an annual Rafer Johnson Day. Every year he speaks at the event and cheers on hundreds of students with special needs as they participate in a variety of track and field events. In 2010, Johnson received the Fernando Award for Civic Accomplishment from the Fernando Foundation and in 2011, he was inducted into the Bakersfield City School District Hall of Fame. Additionally, Rafer now acts as the athletic advisor to Dan Guerrero, Director of Athletics at UCLA. He was Inducted into the Texas Track and Field Coaches Hall of Fame, Class of 2016.
| Flagbearer for United States
| Final Olympic torchbearer
Los Angeles 1988
| Final Summer Olympic torchbearer
Los Angeles 1984
Chung Sun-Man, Sohn Mi-Chung
and Kim Won-Tak
| Track & Field Athlete of the Year
| Men's decathlon world record holder
June 11, 1955 – May 18, 1958
| Men's decathlon world record holder
July 28, 1958 – May 17, 1959
| Men's decathlon world record holder
July 9, 1960 – April 28, 1963
The 1956 NCAA Track and Field Championships were held in Berkeley, California in June 1956. UCLA won the team title, ending a seven-year streak by the University of Southern California. Nine NCAA meet records and one American record were broken at the event.Bobby Morrow of Abilene Christian led all athletes with 20 points in the meet. Morrow won both the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes. Morrow went on to win three gold medals in the 1956 Summer Olympics.
Rafer Johnson led the scoring for team champion UCLA. Johnson scored 16 of UCLA's 55-7/10 points with second-place finishes in the broad jump and high hurdles. Johnson went on to win the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1960 Summer Olympics.
The one American record that was broken at the meet was in the 800-meter run. Arnie Sowell of the University of Pittsburgh set the new American mark with a time of 1:46.7.1956 United States Olympic Trials (track and field)
The men's 1956 United States Olympic Trials for track and field for men were held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California, between June 28-9. The 20 kilometer walk trials were held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on August 26, and the 50 kilometer walk trials were held on September 16 in Baltimore, Maryland. Two marathon trials were held between two races, the AAU National Championships in Yonkers, New York, on September 30 and the Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts, on April 19. As it turned out, the three selectees were the top 3 Americans at both events. The 10,000 meters was held in Bakersfield, California on June 23.
The decathlon was held two weeks after the trials on July 13-4 in Crawfordsville, Indiana allowing athletes to make attempts in individual events. Rafer Johnson qualified in the long jump but didn't jump in Melbourne. Bob Richards qualified in the Decathlon after winning the pole vault in his attempt to repeat as Olympic pole vault champion. He did compete in both events in Melbourne, successfully winning the pole vault, but after scoring in 11th place through nine events, he chose not to suffer through a 1500 and did not finish. The process was organized by the AAU.
The Women's Olympic Trials were held separately in Washington, D.C. between July 15-6.1960 United States Olympic Trials (track and field)
The men's 1960 United States Olympic Trials for track and field for men were held at the Stanford Stadium at Stanford University in California, between July 1-2. The 20 kilometer walk trials were held in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 17, and the 50 kilometer walk trials were held on July 3 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Two marathon trials were held between two races, the AAU National Championships in Yonkers, New York, on May 22 and the Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts, on April 19. As it turned out, the three selectees were the top 3 at Yonkers, but that is because Gordon McKenzie was also the first American finisher at Boston.
The 10,000 meters was held during a heat wave in Bakersfield, California on July 24-25. Because of the temperatures, still 80°F at midnight, the race began at 11:58 p.m. on the 24th so the bulk of the race took place technically on the 25th. Several international athletes were allowed to participate in hopes of drawing the Americans to fast times, but the heat dashed those plans.
The decathlon was held a week after the trials, allowing athletes to make attempts at individual events. Rafer Johnson threw the javelin, Bob Gutowski tried to qualify in the pole vault, and Mike Herman attempted the long jump. While Herman failed to get a legal attempt in the long jump, a week later his World Decathlon Best 26'3" would have chased Ralph Boston and certainly would have been good enough to qualify. American resident, but Taiwanese citizen C. K. Yang was allowed to participate in the decathlon, where he pushed his college teammate Rafer Johnson to the world record, but his performance did not displace the American athletes in the trials. The process was organized by the AAU.
The Women's Olympic Trials were held separately in Abilene, Texas between July 15-6.1984 Summer Olympics torch relay
The 1984 Summer Olympics torch relay was run from May 8 until July 28, prior to the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. The route covered around 15,000 kilometres (9,300 mi) across the United States and involved over 3,600 torchbearers. Rafer Johnson lit the cauldron at the opening ceremony. The Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee (LAOOC) tasked Burson-Marsteller, the public relations agency of AT&T, with the organization of the relay. The Youth Legacy Kilometer, pioneered the idea of runners being nominated by the public.
The torch relay saw many firsts, including people from all over the country participating and raising millions of dollars that were donated to charities.Athletics at the 1956 Summer Olympics – Men's decathlon
The Men's decathlon competition at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, was held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on November 29–30.Athletics at the 1960 Summer Olympics – Men's decathlon
The men's decathlon at the 1960 Summer Olympics took place between 5 September and 6 September at the Stadio Olimpico.Decathlon world record progression
The first world record in the decathlon was recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federations in 1922.As of 23 June 2012, 36 men's world records have been ratified by the IAAF in the event.The first world record in the women's decathlon was recognized by the IAAF in 2004. As of 21 June 2009, two world records have been ratified by the IAAF in the event.
The current world record holder in the decathlon is French national Kevin Mayer.
Over the years athletes have become bigger, stronger, and faster; in turn athletes scored more points leading to the world record where it stands now at 9126 points by the current world record holder Kevin Mayer.Irene Robertson
Irene Robertson (born November 10, 1931) is an American hurdler. She competed in the 80 metres hurdles at the 1956 Summer Olympics and the 1960 Summer Olympics.Jenny Johnson Jordan
Jennifer A. Johnson-Jordan (born June 8, 1973) is an American female beach volleyball player. She won the silver medal at the 1999 Beach Volleyball World Championships in Marseille, alongside Annett Davis.
She attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and was a member of their Bruins volleyball team. She competed in the 2000 Summer Olympics with Davis, finishing in fifth place.Jimmy Johnson (cornerback)
James Earl Johnson (born March 31, 1938) is a former American football player and track athlete.
Johnson was born in Dallas and raised in Kingsburg, California. He is the younger brother of Rafer Johnson, winner of the decathlon gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics. Johson played college football and ran track at UCLA. He won the NCAA 110-meter hurdles championship and was named an All-American in track and field.
Johnson was the sixth player selected in the 1961 NFL Draft and played for the San Francisco 49ers in the National Football League (NFL) from 1961 to 1976. He was selected four times as a first-team All-Pro and played in five Pro Bowls. His jersey (No. 37) was permanently retired by the 49ers in 1977. In 1980, he was named as a first-string cornerback on the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, and in 1994 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.Phil Mulkey
Philip Roy "Phil" Mulkey (born January 7, 1933) is an American track and field athlete, primarily known for the multi-event decathlon. Mulkey was the second place American behind Rafer Johnson at the 1960 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships which served as Olympic Trials. He failed to finish the 1960 Olympic competition, dropping out after the discus throw. Mulkey had been a competitor at the 1952 Olympic Trials finishing 17th as a high schooler from Purdy, Missouri and the 1956 Olympic Trials finishing 7th representing the University of Wyoming.Mulkey placed second at the 1959 Pan American Games behind Dave Edstrom. In 1961 he surpassed Vasili Kuznetsov's world record by scoring 8,727 points at the Southeastern AAU (the equivalent of USATF in the day) meet in his home town of Memphis, Tennessee, but the record was never ratified by the IAAF because the field was not approved.Mulkey competed for Memphis State College and then the University of Wyoming. He never quit the sport, moving from the open division into the early days of masters athletics. He competed at many Masters Athletics World Championships and set several world records as he progressed through the age groups. His M60 American Record was decertified as the American record after World Masters Athletics changed the implement specifications, but it remains the best mark. He coached his then girlfriend Philipa Raschker (Phil and Phil), one of the most successful Masters athletes ever. Both Phils each were named the 1993 and 1994 USATF Combined Athletes of the year.Now residing in Birmingham, Alabama, Mulkey has spent many years coaching at The Altamont School, with numerous state titles to his team's credits. Now the hurdle coach at Vestavia Hills High School.Tarzan and the Great River
Tarzan and the Great River is a 1967 adventure film starring Mike Henry in his second of three film appearances as Tarzan. The film was produced by Sy Weintraub and Steve Shagan, written by Bob Barbash (from a story by Barbash and Lewis Reed), and directed by Robert Day. It was released in September 1967.Tarzan and the Jungle Boy
Tarzan and the Jungle Boy is a 1968 adventure film starring Mike Henry in his third and final appearance as Tarzan. Rafer Johnson and Aliza Gur co-star. The film was produced by Sy Weintraub and Robert Day, written by Stephen Lord (based on the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs) and directed by Robert Gordon. It was released in May 1968.The Fiercest Heart
The Fiercest Heart is a 1961 American adventure film starring Stuart Whitman and Juliet Prowse, also featuring 1960 Summer Olympics decathlon champion Rafer Johnson. It is set in 1830s South Africa and based on the 1955 novel of the same name by Stuart Cloete.The Last Grenade
The Last Grenade is a 1970 British war film directed by Gordon Flemyng and starring Stanley Baker and Alex Cord as two soldiers of fortune, formerly comrades, who now find themselves on opposite sides. The cast also includes Richard Attenborough, Honor Blackman, Rafer Johnson, John Thaw, Andrew Keir, and Julian Glover. It was the final feature film directed by Flemyng.
Filmed in Hong Kong and Spain, the film only uses names of the characters from John Sherlock's 1964 novel The Ordeal of Major Grigsby that was set in the Malayan Emergency in 1948. Sherlock co-wrote the original screenplay that was rewritten by James Mitchell.
The working title of the film was Grigsby.United States at the 1960 Summer Olympics
The United States competed at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy. It was the first Summer Olympics in which the athletes marched under the present flag. 292 competitors, 241 men and 51 women, took part in 147 events in 17 sports.
The 1960 Summer Olympics was the first Olympics that was being covered by a United States television provider. CBS bought the rights to cover the 1960 Summer Olympics.
The 1960 Summer Olympics also brought one of the first appearances of one of the greatest heavyweight boxers ever, Muhammad Ali. Since these Olympic Games occurred before his conversion to Islam, he fought under the name Cassius Clay.Names of United States gold winners. Wilbert McClure, Eddie Crook, Jr., Cassius Clay, Otis Davis(2), Lee Calhoun, Glenn Davis, Jack Yerman, Earl Young, Glenn Davis, Ralph Boston, Don Brags, Bill Nieder, Al Oerter, Rafer Johnson, Wilma Rudolph(3), Martha Hudson, Lucinda Williams, Barbara Jones, Jay Hoyland, Arnette Walter, Jones Bellamy Jr., Robert Lewis, Boozer Terence, Gilbert Dischinger, Bardette Haldorson, Darall Tucker, Allen Earl, Kelley Lester, Jerry Ray Lucas, Oscar Palmer Robertson, Adrian Howard Smith, Jerome Alan West, Gary Tobian, Bob Webster, Arthur Ayrault, Ted Nash, John Sayre, Rusty Wailes, George O'Day, James Hunt, David Smith, William McMillan, William Mulliken, Michael Troy(2), George Harrison, Richard Blick, Jeff Farrel(2), Frank McKinney, Paul Hait, Lance Larson, Chris Von Saltza(3), Lynn Burke(2), Carolyn Schuler(2), Joan Spillane, Shirley Stobs, Carolyn Wood, Patty Kempner, Charles Linci, Terrence McCann, Shelby Wilson, Douglas Blubaugh.Vasili Kuznetsov (athlete)
Vasili Dmitriyevich Kuznetsov (Russian: Василий Дмитриевич Кузнецов, 7 February 1932 – 6 August 2001) was a Russian decathlete who won the European title in 1954, 1958 and 1962. He competed for the Soviet Union at the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Olympics and won bronze medals in 1956 and 1960, placing seventh in 1964.
Kuznetsov took up athletics in the late 1940s and won a record 10 national decathlon titles in 1953-60 and 1962-63. He set two decathlon world records: in May 1958, he was the first athlete to break the 8,000 points barrier on the 1952 scoring system, with 8,014 points (7,653 (1985)) in Krasnodar. He set his second world record in May 1959 at 8,357 (7,839 (1985)). He also held three pentathlon world records at 3,736 in 1956, 3,901 in 1958, and 4,006 in 1959. Kuznetsov retired after the 1964 Olympics to become an athletics coach and lecturer at the Moscow State University. In 1987 he was included into the list of 10 all-time best decathletes by the IAAF.West Coast Relays
Started April 30, 1927, the West Coast Relays grew to one of the premier track and field events in the United States. Held in Fresno's Ratcliffe Stadium, it was the site of thirty-six world records and many national and collegiate records. It became the home of the debut of some of the Central Valley's best known athletes; Bob Mathias, Dutch Warmerdam, Rafer Johnson, Tommie Smith and Henry Ellard. Participants included future stars of other sports; Jackie Robinson, O.J. Simpson, Willie Gault, and Bill Russell.The delay in replacing the outdated clay track at Ratcliffe Stadium damaged the meet and the event was discontinued after the 1982 edition. The meet was revived in 1991 as the Bob Mathias Fresno Relays and was held at Warmerdam Field at Fresno State.By 2006 the meet moved again to Buchanan High School in Clovis, California. The revived West Coast Relays since then has been an annual high school-only track and field meet.Yang Chuan-kwang
Yang Chuan-kwang, or C.K. Yang (Amis: Maysang Kalimud, Chinese: 楊傳廣; pinyin: Yáng Chuánguǎng) (July 10, 1933 – January 27, 2007), was an Olympic decathlete from Taiwan. Yang attended college at UCLA where he trained and competed with team mate and Olympian Rafer Johnson and was coached by Elvin C. Drake.
James E. Sullivan Award winners
Theodore Roosevelt Award winners
Amateur Athletic Union
The Athletics Congress
USA Track & Field
|Men's track & road athletes|
|Men's field athletes|
|Women's track athletes|
|Women's field athletes|
|Men's track & road athletes|
|Men's field athletes|
|Women's track athletes|
|Women's field athletes|