Jim Bradford, who died Sept. 13 at 84, spent much of his life in quiet obscurity at the Library of Congress as an assistant bookbinder and a researcher. But he was a most unusual library employee -- a 6-foot, 287-pound weightlifter and two-time Olympian. He could easily have been mistaken for a National Football League tackle, Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich once said of him.
In the heavyweight category, Bradford twice took home a silver medal, at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki and the 1960 Games in Rome.
He was an African-American, largely unfeted in Washington in the 1950s. He had to take unpaid leave from the Library of Congress to compete on the world stage. "Nah, they just ignored it," he told Washington Post journalist David Maraniss, author of the book "Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World." "I come back to my job and that is it. That was par for the course then."
At the 1952 Games, Bradford came in second to American John Davis in the heavyweight category. Four years later, after Army service, he qualified for the Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, but did not go, choosing instead to stay home with his pregnant wife. Povich reported that Bradford's wife didn't want him traipsing all over the world for no remuneration.
But he vied again in 1960, with the Olympic team purportedly aiming to knock the Soviets down a peg in athletic revenge after the Russian triumph in space with the 1957 Sputnik satellite launch.
During the three-part event, Bradford finished second to Russian heavyweight Yuri Vlasov, whose combined weight lifted was 1,182 1/2 pounds, a world record. Bradford lifted 1,127 1/2 pounds.
At one point, it appeared that Bradford had won the Olympic gold when the judges disqualified Vlasov for an improper procedure in one of his lifts. That disqualification was overturned on an appeal.
Bradford said he was crushed by the ruling, which he realized would cost him the gold. Maraniss said the disappointment was what drove him from competitive weightlifting.