John Davis, Olympic Champion
by Dennis Mitchell
John H. Davis was born January 12, 1921 in Smithtown, Long Island. As a youngster his favorite sports were gymnastics and track. He lived near a park where he would play on the rings and the high bar. He was exceptionally good at chinning, and could chin with either hand while holding a 25 pound weight in the free hand. Weightlifter Steve Walsky saw John at the playground and invited him to work out at his home gym. John worked out hard and long, often five days a week. At this time, 1937, he saw a strong man weightlifting strength show where he met Bob Hoffman. Not long after he entered his first weightlifting contest where he took a second place. This was a start in a long and successful career.
John said that his original interest was in body building, but felt that a negro would never win the Mr. America title. At a body weight of 180 pounds and standing 5’8.5″, he had a 17″ neck, 16″ arms,13.75″ fore arms, and 16″ calfs. He trained very hard, and was ahead of his time as he included both squats and bench presses in his workouts. It was believed at that time that squats would make you slow, and that bench presses would hinder overhead lifting. John won his first world championship as a light heavy weight at the age of 17, in Vienna, Austria. He went on to win eight world, twelve national championships and two Olympics. During his long career he set sixteen world records. He did this even though his career was interrupted for three years serving in the army during the world war. He was also the first lifter to clean and jerk over 400 pounds (402) using a standard barbell and was the second person to total 1,000 pounds on the three lifts.
John Davis passed away July 13, 1984.