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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 6:32 p.m., Wednesday, February 21, 2007

First Asian-American Olympic medalist dies

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Richard Tom, who was the first Asian-American to win an Olympic medal, died yesterday at his home in Aina Haina.

He was 86.

"He was a very nice person, and one of the most enthusiastic about the sport that I knew," said Tommy Kono, an Olympic champion lifter.

Competing as a bantamweight in weightlifting, Tom won the bronze medal in the 1948 Games in London. His teammate was Harold Sakata, who went on to play "Odd Job" in the 1964 James Bond movie, "Goldfinger."

Tom and Kono were teammates at the 1952 Games in Helsinki.

Kono said Tom and his Hawai'i teammates excelled despite a lack of formal training.

Despite being "so far removed from the Mainland, they had excellent technique," Kono said. "They learned from reading books and looking at magazines."

Harold Onaga said his uncle was an Army veteran of World War II. Tom retired from a government job at Schofield.

Until last year, Tom officiated at weightlifting contests at the Nuuanu YMCA.

Onaga said his uncle "was a lover of jazz music. His collection goes back to 78 vinyls."

Two weeks ago, Tom was inducted into the Hawai'i Sports Hall of Fame. Because Tom was recovering from double-bypass surgery in December, Kono accepted on Tom's behalf.

"He was a great person," Kono said.