John Davis might have been the most dominant athlete of his generation, even though he was almost never the center of attention.
The sport of weightlifting is not too glamorous.
“You know, I won my first world championship in 1938, 10 years ago, when I was 17,” Davis said in a 1948 interview that later was recounted in Sports Illustrated. “Since then, I’ve won two more world championships and seven national titles, and I’ve been undefeated in 10 years. But outside of weightlifting, I don’t think 15 people ever heard of me.”
In all, Davis’s winning streak totaled 15 years and included eight world championships and Olympic gold medals at the London 1948 Olympic Games and the Helsinki 1952 Olympic Games. Davis likely would have more world championships and Olympic medals, but in 1940 and 1944 The Olympics were canceled because of World War II. During that time, Davis served nearly four years in the U.S. Army, stationed in the South Pacific.
It only took a little time to get back in the swing of things when Davis returned to competition. At 5 feet 8, he was shorter than most of the other weightlifters, but he was plenty strong. He became the first person to clean and jerk more than 400 pounds.
After retiring from competition, Davis worked as a corrections officer. He passed away in 1984 after battling cancer. He was 63.