BRICK TOWNSHIP, N.J. - "America is not like a blanket: one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt: many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread."

Jesse Jackson declared that in 1984 as he formulated his Rainbow Coalition.

However, for four United States Olympic athletes - George Harris, Jim Bregman, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, and Paul Murayama - that concept was decades old.

On Friday, Mr. Harris, a resident of Brick Township, N.J., died of leukemia, eight days before his 78th birthday.

Mr. Harris was an African American who grew up in Philadelphia. Bregman is a Jewish American from Virginia. Campbell is a Native American of the Cheyenne tribe from Colorado, and Murayama was a Japanese American from California.

They were America's "Rainbow Team" in the sport of judo at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Long a Japanese specialty, judo went global by the mid-1960s and was added to the '64 Games at the urging of the Japanese hosts, who went on to win three gold medals and one silver in the four weight classes.

The "Rainbow Team" was like a brotherhood. They shared the camaraderie of their pioneering Olympic mission, and they remained a tight fraternity in the 46 ensuing years.

To International Judo Federation spokesman Sheldon Franco-Rooks, Mr. Harris was "an American judo legend, a genial and gentle giant."

Just a handful of men have ever reached international 10th-degree black-belt status in judo. As a ninth-degree black belt, Mr. Harris was the highest-ranking American in judo history.

Mr. Harris already was a young veteran of the judo wars when he got to the Tokyo Olympics. Born in North Carolina, he moved to Philadelphia at an early age. An amateur boxer as a teenager, he enlisted in the Air Force after high school.

Judo was a skill required of all Strategic Air Command personnel. At Travis Air Force Base in California, Mr. Harris learned judo and taught it to other airmen.

"Every year for 10 years, I spent four to six months training in Japan at the Kodakan," Mr. Harris said in an interview last year. Kodakan is Japan's leading judo institute. "The Air Force would send over 26 men at a time."

Mr. Harris went on to win six Air Force judo championships, four U.S. national titles, and two Pan American Games gold medals.

Competing in the heavyweight division at the Tokyo Olympic Games, Mr. Harris won his first-round bout over a British rival but bowed out in a second-round loss to a Russian who went on to win the bronze medal.

It was one of the few major disappointments in Mr. Harris' long competitive career.

"I was totally inspired by watching George Harris at the top of his game. He was the best there was at what he did," said Bregman, the only American judoka to medal in Tokyo, taking a historic bronze in the middleweight class.

"I learned so much of the technical aspect of the sport from George. I owed so much to him. And in his later years, he became a renowned teacher of judo and an international spokesman for the sport. George was respected everywhere."

"George Harris was like a superman," said Campbell, who competed in the open division at Tokyo and went on to a career in politics as a three-term U.S. representative and two-term U.S. senator from Colorado.

"We traveled the world together," Campbell said. "We had so many wonderful experiences. And the biggest thing he taught me was never to give up, something I took with me in everything I ever did."

Mr. Harris starred in the late-1970s martial-arts film, The Year of the Gentle Tiger, a forerunner to The Karate Kid.

"In Japanese, judo is 'the gentle way,' " said Jesse Goldstein of Toms River, N.J., a former U.S. heavyweight champion. He and Mr. Harris taught judo at Ocean County YMCA and at many schools and academies.

"George Harris was truly a gentleman," Goldstein said. "No one I ever met spoke badly of George. Everybody looked up to George, the Japanese, the Brazilians, the British, the Dutch, everybody.

"I loved the man. That's why I named my fourth son after him. Jacob Harrison Goldstein."

Mr. Harris is survived by his wife, Janice Conner Harris, and three daughters. Funeral arrangements were pending.