THE BEST THAT I CAN BE by Rafer Johnson


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A diverting autobiography by the 1960 Olympic decathlon champion, told with equal parts grace, humility, and candor. Johnson’s story is set up in ten chapters, each representing an event in the decathlon and bearing titles such as “Clearing the Hurdle” and “Vaulting High, Falling Far.” Born in 1935 in Texas, he grew up In Kingsburg, Calif.,, a small town not far from Fresno. He was attracted to track, in part, he says, “because the sport did not involve one-on-one physical confrontation or attempts to do harm to opponents.” Fresh out of high school in 1953, he started doing well in national meets, placing just behind Olympians like Bob Richards. A young black man, he attended UCLA because of the school’s “proud long-standing commitment to racial equality” and because he felt a special affinity for Coach Elvin “Ducky” Drake. Johnson won the decathlon at the 1955 Pan Am Games, setting a new record in his first international competition. His sights were on Olympic gold, though injuries forced him to settle for silver at Melbourne in 1956. He would reach the pinnacle at the1960 Rome Olympics in an intense competition with his good friend C.K. Yang of Taiwan. Johnson’s insights and descriptions of the decathlon events are a highlight of the book. Following his athletic career, Johnson appeared in a number of Hollywood films (without distinction), worked for People to People and the Peace Corps, served as a sports reporter for NBC, and was hired as an affirmative-action consultant by Continental Telephone, where he became a vice president. Always one to be involved, Johnson was a member of Robert F. Kennedy’s entourage and was present when the senator was assassinated. He offers a riveting account of that event, of helping to wrestle Sirhan Sirhan to the floor and prying the gun from his hands. Never an ego-driven man, Johnson is perhaps the most undervalued, underpublicized sports hero in recent memory. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Aug. 17th, 1998
ISBN: 0-385-48760-6
Page count: 276pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1998


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