Richard Tom was a regular at the Old Central YMCA after developing an interest in weightlifting at the age of 16 by watching others train. He trained along side weightlifting colleagues Harold Sakata and Emerick Ishikawa, and in 1947 he progressed in competition from the Junior Nationals to the Senior Nationals. His 2nd place finish in the Los Angeles Senior Nationals in 1948 qualified Tom for the Olympic trials, and he made the 1948 U.S. Olympic team at the New York trials.

During the 1948 Olympics in London, England, Tom was one of four Hawai’i weightlifters on the U.S. Olympic team that had the distinction of being the first Asian Americans to be selected to the U.S. team. Tom, of Chinese ancestry, won the bronze medal in the 123 lb class.

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