NewsCovering Kern County


BCSD reflects on passing of 1960 Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson

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Posted at 12:33 PM, Dec 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-02 15:33:16-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Rafer Johnson, who won the decathlon at the 1960 Rome Olympics and helped subdue Robert F. Kennedy's assassin in 1968, died Wednesday at the age of 86. After hearing the news of his passing, the Bakersfield City School District responded with a heartfelt message.

The Bakersfield City School District is saddened to hear of the passing of our beloved friend, Rafer Johnson. A champion of children with special needs, Mr. Johnson never missed an opportunity to visit with students at the BCSD school named in his honor. We will miss walking the track with Mr. Johnson every spring. Our thoughts are with Mr. Johnson’s family.
Bakersfield City School District

The school district is no stranger to the work and success of Johnson. The district named a school after the champion and holds an annual Special Olympics track meet in honor of the athlete.

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In 1970, Johnson helped to establish the National Special Olympics. He was inducted into the BCSD Hall of Fame in 2011.

Johnson was among the world's greatest athletes from 1955 through his Olympic triumph in 1960.

The Associated Press reported Johnson won a national decathlon championship in 1956 and a silver medal at the Melbourne Olympics that same year.

He lit the torch at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

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In June 1968, Johnson was with Kennedy at a hotel in Los Angeles when the senator was shot by Sirhan Sirhan.

Johnson, along with former NFL star Rosey Grier and journalist George Plimpton, helped in subduing the shooter.

Kennedy died the next day.