Hawaii’s greatest Olympian?

June 20th, 2012
By dreardon

If today’s column subject, Bryan Clay, earns a third Olympic medal in the decathlon in London this summer does that push him past Duke Kahanamoku as Hawaii’s greatest Olympian? Interesting question I discussed briefly on the radio this morning with Scott Robbs and Steve Murray, who are subbing for Bobby Curran this week on 1420 AM’s morning show.

Kahanamoku will have finished with more medals than Clay … but top swimmers have many more opportunities for medals than decathletes.

Clay will never be the same mythic and transcendent figure to Hawaii and Hawaiians as Kahanamoku, but even if he doesn’t make it out of the trials for the U.S. team this week he will still be one of the greatest decathletes of all-time, with a silver in 2004 and a gold in 2008.

Where does Tommy Kono (born and raised in California, but longtime Hawaii resident) fit into the conversation? Kono won two golds and a silver in weightlifting in three Olympiads.

9 Responses to “Hawaii’s greatest Olympian?”

  1. Hawkpeter:

    This is an excellent question up for debate. I would add to it 2 other considerations….. which athlete transcended their sport better? and who played the greater influence in changing their sport? Kahanamoku IS surfing. He is recognized around the world as the father of surfing. Kono influenced the rules of olympic lifting greatly. The rules were changed in 1964 to allow a thigh brush creating a significant emphasis between the 1st and 2nd pull. Kono, by his own intuition, was probably the first international lifter to get the most out of this rule change. Clay, probably cannot say the same about how he has influenced either his sport or popular culture but he is the best at a time when access to elite training has never been greater around the world. A great debate to be had.


  2. Manoa Mist:

    Gotta be Clay. He’s the greatest. Right after Duke Kahanamoku.


  3. Derrick:

    Great subject Dave! If he wins gold again, I would definitely put his name on top. The decathlon has been considered the greatest test of sportsmanship and the winner the world’s greatest athlete. Hawaii has been home to many great olympians in a number of sports, a large number of them in swimming. No surprise there since Hawaii is a waterman’s paradise but we have seen others suceed in weightlifting (Tommy Kono, Harold Sakata & Richard Tom) volleyball (Clay Stanley, Robyn Ah Mow-Santos & Lindsey Berg) and Judo (Kevin Asano).


  4. kulauli:

    What about william smith. Two gold medals and at one time held the world records for every freestyle from the 200 to the 1000.


  5. MrK:

    Great topic, Dave. For me, it’s gotta be Tommy Kono. He lived and trained during a tough time in America. He was a sickly kid as a child, growing up, as a Japanese-American during WWII. His family was forced into a internment camp. To earn money, he had to spend his summers working on a farm, so he was unable to train during these times. He served in the Army during his prime. He sometimes did not have a proper training environment – he did a lot of his training in a room with uneven dirt floor, and a ceiling so low that he could not perform overhead lifts – he had to make sure the weight plates were between the joists before he lifted. He said he never really had a coach – he was his own coach. He also came very close to being sent to the Korean War. Despite all of these things going on in his life, the man still became a MULTIPLE Olympic and World Champion. And he also won a couple of Mr. Universe titles along the way. Incredible. Many American athletes today get to train all-year-round, and in much more ideal circumstances.


  6. surfking125:

    Please be sure to consider Ford Kono and Bill Woolsey … both outstanding swimmers, record holders and Olympic medal winners !!


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  8. Bastien:

    We can say what we want, it is the best of the best


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