. The Johnsons and their five children would relocate to Kingsburg, California, in 1944. Johnson had been a member of the Board of Directors for years, until he ran for President of Special Olympics Southern California, which he won in 1983. It was the last time Rafer Johnson would lose a decathlon competition. An extraordinary athlete and consummate gentleman, Johnson set three world records in track and field’s most demanding sport – the decathlon.

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 Mathiascompete in the 1952 U.S. O… For a while, they were the only black family in the town. He appeared in television’s Dragnet, Lassie, Roots and The Six Million Dollar Man.

In 1984, he lit the Olympic Flame at the Los Angeles Games. As world record holder, flag-bearer and captain of the U.S. Olympic Team, Johnson came into the 1960 Rome Games as the heavy favorite.

Seventeen years later, Jimmy Johnson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Authorized and Accredited by Special Olympics, Inc. for the Benefit of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities. Rafer’s younger brother, Jimmy, was an NCAA 110-meter hurdle champion at UCLA and first pick of the 1961 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers.

Yang, a superb decathlete from Taiwan, enrolled at UCLA. The 1960 decathlon quickly became a two-man competition, with the lead see-sawing between Johnson and Yang – dubbed the “Iron Asian.”  The closest of friends and keenest of rivals, the gold medal came down to the last event — the 1,500 meters. However, he would go on to appear on the silver screen alongside Hollywood’s greats such as Elvis Presley in Wild in the Country and Timothy Dalton as James Bond in License to Kill. Johnson retired following the Games and returned home an Olympic hero. Although both men were pitted against each other, they both held overwhelming respect and support for each other. "From the very start in 1969, I wanted to be a part of helping our Special Olympics athletes succeed. Johnson knew more needed to be done for people with intellectual disabilities so in 1969, he helped form the Southern California chapter of Special Olympics after the success of the First Annual Western Regional Special Olympics in July. Six years later, they migrated to California, living first in Oakland before settling in Kingsburg, a dusty agricultural town in the central valley near Fresno. Along with Eunice Shriver Kennedy [Kennedy’s sister], Johnson founded the California Special Olympics, an organization that enriches the lives of thousands of athletes with intellectual disabilities.
Born in the central Texas town of Hillsboro on this date in 1935, Rafer Lewis Johnson moved with his family several times as a child.

Johnson was introduced to decathlon after watching double Olympic champion Bob Mathias, a local hero from nearby Tulare, California, compete at a local meet. A versatile athlete, he played on Kingsburg High School's football, baseball and basketball teams.

In 1938, the Johnsons lived in Dallas.

Then, in 1986, LAPD joined the organization for the Law Enforcement Torch Run to raise awareness and funds for the group. Behind by only 67 points, Yang needed to win by ten seconds to capture the gold medal.

Johnson returned to form in 1960, setting a new world record [and third of his career] at the Olympic Trials in July.

In just his fourth meet three months later, he broke the world record Mathias had set in 1952. Prior to the 1960 Summer Olympics, Johnson was offered a role in Spartacus, but had to turn it down in order for him to be able to compete in Rome.

Following his retirement from athletics in 1960, Johnson took up acting. I think the most successful people are those who have someone helping them . Special Olympics Southern California's Founder and Olympic Gold Medalist.

Johnson was born in Hillsboro, Texas, but the family moved to Kingsburg, California, when he was 9. After his victories in the 1953 and 1954 decathlon meet, he began his college career at University of California, Los Angeles, where he would go on to become class president, and even win the gold in the 1955 Pan American Games for the decathlon in Mexico City.

He was named AP Athlete of the Year and won the 1960 AAU Sullivan Award. Although his time in the world of athletics was far from over, Rafer took interest in acting. He is still active in sports communities, and his daughter, Jennifer, and his son, Joshua, are both involved with athletics and Olympic events.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Rafer Johnson has been involved deeply with Special Olympics, where he got his start with the program in Southern California. Despite the blistering pace set by Yang, Johnson held close, running a personal-best 4:49.7, only 1.2 seconds behind his rival. Johnson attended the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, and despite having an injury, he still took home the silver medal. On July 5, 1958, Johnson won the AAU decathlon in Palmyra, New York. Johnson declined a football scholarship and accepted a less restrictive academic scholarship to UCLA. If I knew I was going to win, it’s because I knew I had worked harder.

Johnson attended Kingsburg Union High School, where he was an honors student.

He worked on Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1968 and, along with former Rams’ tackle Rosey Grier, subdued Sirhan Sirhan after he fatally shot Senator Kennedy in Los Angeles in June 1968. A natural leader, he served as president of his sophomore class and student body president as a senior. In 1974, he was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame and, in 1990, was elected to the National High School Hall of Fame. © 2008 - 2020 Special Olympics Southern California For a time, the Johnsons were the only African-American family in town.

By the tenth event, both men were drained but knew they had to finish the decathlon with everything they had. Johnson helped UCLA to the first track and field title in school history, then walked onto the Bruins basketball team to play for coach John Wooden. Johnson took gold, setting a new Olympic record of 8,392 points in the process. There are two sets of eyes, two sets of hands, and two sets of hearts working together. Rafer Johnson was President until 1992, when he was elected Chairman of the Board of Governors. Created by the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation. A black man, Johnson was class president at his all-white high school and later served as class president at UCLA. The two athletes battled for the top spot, both giving all they had to defeat the other.

Kevin and Jennifer Jordan later served as chaplains for the UCLA women’s basketball team. I’m on their team” (Bueno 1994). He played 16 years in the NFL and was named as a starting cornerback on the league’s 1970s All-Decade Team. And that’s why I am for special athletes - another set of eyes, another set of hands, and a heart working to be there for them, finding a way to help them be the best they can be. After winning the decathlon gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics, Johnson served in the Peace Corps. Three weeks later, he bettered his own world record, at the inaugural U.S. – U.S.S.R. meet in Moscow, and would go on to be named Sports Illustrated “Sportsman of the Year.”, In 1959, a serious auto accident damaged Johnson’s spinal cord and lower back, forcing him to miss the that season’s AAU Championships and Pan Am Games. The Olympic decathlon is held over two days, with five events each day.

Rafer Johnson has incessantly and tirelessly worked his whole life, and it was the same motivation he saw in Special Olympic athletes that continues to push him to this day, as seen in his quote from Special Olympics: The First 25 Years: “There are lots of ways to find success.

Rafer’s daughter, Jennifer, played volleyball at UCLA and won a silver medal at the 1999 Beach Volleyball World Championships. I wanted to be on Eunice Kennedy Shirver's team as another set of eyes, another set of hands and a heart working to be there for them, finding a way to help them be the best they can be. In March 1955, he took the decathlon gold medal at the Pan Am Games in Mexico City. Your email address will not be published. Daily Dose Sports Publications © All rights reserved. Two months later in Rome, he and Yang, the son of a rice farmer, battled in one of the most epic duals in Olympic decathlon history.

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After taking home the gold in Rome, Rafer Johnson concluded his days of competing as an athlete. With a personal-best time of 4:36, Yang appeared to be the favorite, as Johnson had never run faster than 4:54. Your email address will not be published. Born in the central Texas town of Hillsboro on this date in 1935, Rafer Lewis Johnson moved with his family several times as a child.

Rafer took a brief pause in his acting career to focus on other aspirations, including public and social service with Special Olympics, and even participating in Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1968. In 1972, the International Special Olympics was held in Southern California at UCLA and Santa Monica College, welcoming over 2,500 athletes from eight countries across the globe.

Hard work is one of them. The organization reached out to various states and countries, blossoming Special Olympics’ outreach to individuals with intellectual disabilities who would benefit from taking part in the program. In May 2017 – more than five-and-a-half decades after achieving Olympic stardom – Rafer Johnson was awarded the UCLA Medal, the highest honor the university can bestow, in recognition of his decades of leadership in the Special Olympics and unwavering efforts supporting equality for all. Rafer had the lead by a small number of points, but Yang was ready to fight for the gold. Johnson qualified for the 1956 U.S. Olympic team in both decathlon and long jump, but knee and stomach muscle injuries forced him to withdraw from the latter event. A two-time Olympic medalist, Johnson was an All-State high school running back who, despite not playing college football, was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1961.

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