Bloomberg, Issy : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Bloomberg, Issy


Country Represented:
South Africa

Years Competed:
1948, 1952

Olympic Info:
One of the greatest weightlifters in South African history, Bloomberg was the first athlete to represent his country at the Olympics in weightlifting when he competed at the 1948 London Games. Although he was only 18 years old, and had only been weightlifting competitively for two years, Issy finished ninth in the middleweight class.

Four years later, Bloomberg returned to the Olympics at the 1952 Helsinki Games as a light-heavyweight. He placed well, finishing sixth in a tough competition with a total lift of 392.5-kg (127.5 in the press, 115 in the snatch, and 150 in the jerk), missing a medal by 15-kg. His success at the Olympics helped put South African weightlifting on the map and promote the sport.

Career Highlights:
Although he only began weightlifting in 1946, Bloomberg quickly became one of South Africa's top athletes. He had been working on a farm during a school holiday and impressed the farmer with the ease that he exhibited in throwing heavy bags into a truck. The farmer suggested he go to a gym, where his potential was instantly recognized. During his amateur career, which lasted from 1947-1952, Bloomberg won numerous British Empire titles; he was the silver medalist in the light-heavyweight competition at the 1950 Commonwealth Games and broke a number of Empire and South African records.

When Bloomberg returned from the 1952 Olympics, he decided to open his own gym after being impressed by the gyms in Helsinki. This decision, however, cost him his amateur status. The Olympic authorities determined that because Issy earned a living from his gym he was no longer an amateur. At the age of 23, just when he was entering his prime as an athlete, Bloomberg's amateur career ended. Issy did not allow this decision to affect him, though, as he broke the world record in the press (325 pounds) shortly after turning professional. The record was never officially recognized, however, because of his professional status.

Over the years, Bloomberg became a national icon for those involved in physical fitness in South Africa. He often gave public displays of his strength, and is remembered for lifting two iron train wheels over his head by the axle (a feat that was even more stunning than it sounds because the axle was too wide to for Bloomberg to get his hand all the way around it). Known for years as South African's strongest man, Bloomberg also promoted weighlifting and physical fitness, eventually owning nine gyms throughout the South Africa. He brought new equipment and technique to the country and took a personal interest in his clients; a number of Mr. South Africas and at least one Mr. Universe trained at his gyms under his tutelage. During Apartheid, Bloomberg was reported to the authorities for allowing Blacks to use his gyms. He was interrogated by police, and warned not to continue the practice. In order to be able to continue to provide his Black athletes with quality training opportunities, Bloomberg was compelled to open separate facilities, so he started two gyms for Blacks. Bloomberg, who sold all his gyms but one by the time of his death, is recognized as the major impetus for the health and fitness culture which now exists in South Africa.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. Feb. 10, 1930 - d. Jan. 2001

Cape Town, South Africa

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encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
New York Times, July 21-August 2, 1952