Councilmember Bernard Parks and Rafer Johnson
Decathlon Gold Medalist Rafer Johnson Honored With Coliseum Plaque
CNS–A bronze plaque honoring 1960 Olympic decathlon gold medalist Rafer Johnson was unveiled Tuesday in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum’s Memorial Court of Honor, 25 years and 13 days after he lit the torch in the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics.
UCLA provost Scott Waugh, UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero and LA84 Foundation President Anita DeFrantz joined Johnson in speaking at the ceremony, which was closed to the public.
The plaque honoring Johnson is the 57th in the Court of Honor, which commemorates people and events with ties to the Coliseum and adjacent Sports Arena.
Born Aug. 18, 1935 in Hillsboro, Texas, and raised in Kingsburg in Central California, Johnson competed in his first decathlon in 1954, won a gold medal in the 1955 Pan-American Games and set a world record later that year.
Competing with a swollen knee and a torn stomach muscle, Johnson won a silver medal in the event in the 1956 Summer Olympics, the last time he would lose a decathlon.
In 1958, he set the world record with 8,302 points in the U.S.-Soviet Union dual meet in Moscow and was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year.
“Ray Johnson is rare concentrate of some old Sunday school virtues: tolerance, humility and godliness, none of which can be said to be gaining too much ground in this go-get-’em age,” Coles Phinizy wrote.
Johnson won a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics, edging his UCLA teammate, Yang Chuan-Kwang of Taiwan. Johnson received the Sullivan Award for being the nation’s outstanding amateur athlete and was named as the Associated Press Athlete of the Year.
In 1999, Johnson was named 53rd on the list of the greatest North American athletes of the 20th century by ESPN.
Johnson also played basketball at UCLA and was a starter during the 1959- 60 season.
“Many of the things that I’ve accomplished beyond my years at UCLA, including my relationship with my family and friends and the fact that I’m very much interested in giving back to the community, have a great deal to do with what I learned from coach (John) Wooden,” Johnson said.
Johnson retired from athletics after the 1960 Olympics, becoming an actor and sportscaster. He was worked on the 1968 presidential campaign of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and has been long involved with the Special Olympics and People to People organizations.
Johnson joins such legendary athletes as Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens and Babe Didrickson with plaques in the Coliseum Memorial Court of Honor.
Other plaques honor John F. Kennedy, who received the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination at the Sports Arena and made his acceptance speech at the Coliseum in an address in which he used the phrase “New Frontier” for the first time; Pope John Paul II, who celebrated Mass in the Coliseum in 1987; the Rev. Billy Graham, who attracted 134,254 for a 1963 crusade; football coaches Knute Rockne of Notre Dame and John McKay of USC; and the late NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle.