Rafer Johnson, who ended his famed track and field career with an exciting win in the 1960 Olympic decathlon, died Tuesday in Los Angeles, according to UCLA and USA Track & Field.
He was 86. No cause of death was given. A statement from the school said he died at home surrounded by family.
Johnson’s win in Rome in 1960 was one of the most memorable finishes to a decathlon in Olympic history. In a battle with C.K. Yang of Taiwan — Johnson’s UCLA teammate — the American held a slim lead going into the 1,500-meter run, the final event.
The two men were in the same heat, and despite the fact that it was Yang’s best event, Johnson stayed close enough to win the decathlon by just 58 points.
According to Bleacher Report, Johnson said: “I had one advantage. And I don’t think C.K. knew this at the time — this was my last decathlon. I was prepared to run as fast as I had to in this last race of my life.”
Johnson who later became an activist and an actor also won the silver medal in the 1956 Olympic decathlon. It was the last time he wouldn’t win a decathlon he entered.
“We are extremely saddened to lose one of the greatest humans one could hope to know,” said Avery Anderson, UCLA’s director of track & field/cross country. “Most people know him to be an all-time UCLA and Olympic great as an athlete, but that only scratches the surface of what he gave the world.
“Rafer set the standard of what an icon should be – a humanitarian, a leader, a great friend and mentor, and most importantly a great patriarch to the most wonderful family I’ve ever known.”