American Olympic gold medal
ist in the decathlon
Johnson (DOB: 8/18/1935; Hillsboro, Texas), who is black, and his family were subject to racism and discrimination during his childhood in Texas. His family eventually moved to California and Johnson blossomed as an athlete, eventually going to college at UCLA.
Johnson rapidly established himself as a world-class decathlete as he won the silver medal in the decathlon in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.
By the time the 1960 Games in Rome rolled around, Johnson had already set the world record and was the favorite. He was chosen as the American flag-carrier in the opening ceremonies, becoming the first African-American ever to have that honor. Johnson did not disappoint, winning gold in the grueling decathlon. Decades before decathletes Dan O'Brien and Dave Johnson competed in commercials and in stadia for title of "world's greatest athlete", Rafer Johnson had accomplished the feat.
For his efforts, Both the Associated Press and Sports Illustrated named Johnson as their 1960 Athlete of the Year. He also won the 1960 James E. Sullivan Memorial Award, as outstanding American amateur athlete.
When his career as an athlete came to an end, Johnson helped to found the California Special Olympics in the late '60s.
His fame as "American hero" decathlete and humanitarianism/community service in California led Johnson to being the torch-lighter at the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics, held in Los Angeles.
In 1999, ESPN's SportsCentury selected Johnson as #53 on their list of the 100 greatest North American athletes of the 20th century.