*Rafer Johnson — a decorated Olympian and American hero — has died. He was 86.
Johnson, an exceptional athlete and Olympic gold medal winner became an adored symbol of good sportsmanship and civic generosity, died Wednesday at his home in Sherman Oaks, California.
The Olympian’s death was confirmed by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
Here’s more via the LA Times:
Johnson’s legacy was interwoven with Los Angeles’ history, beginning with his performances as a world-class athlete at UCLA, and punctuated by the night in 1968 when he helped disarm Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin at the Ambassador Hotel.
The son of Texas farmworkers who moved to California when he was young, Johnson rose to become the World’s Greatest Athlete, the unofficial title bestowed on the winner of the Olympic decathlon at a time when track and field stars received the adulation that today is bestowed on the best of the NFL and NBA.
At the 1960 Rome Olympics, Johnson was the U.S. team’s flag bearer, the first Black American so honored. His decathlon battle that year with C.K. Yang — his training partner at UCLA — ranks among the classic moments of Olympics history.
In an eventful life, Johnson broke racial barriers, played an unexpected role in the international relations of the Cold War and immersed himself in the turbulent politics of the 1960s. To help disabled children, Johnson co-founded the California Special Olympics in 1969 and served as its president for 10 years.
In contrast to the anything-to-win attitudes often found in sports today, the deeply religious Johnson was always a vocal advocate for fair play and good sportsmanship. He eschewed drugs and alcohol and, in track races, refused even to try to anticipate the starter’s gun, believing that it was a form of cheating.
“It seems funny to say winning is not all-important — I always want to win, and no one likes to lose,” he once said. “But when you start out on the field, everyone is equal. That is the important idea.”
Get the rest of this story on the passing of Rafer Johnson at LA Times.