Dr. Sammy Lee (USA)
Honor Diver (1968)
FOR THE RECORD: OLYMPIC GAMES: 1948 gold (platform), bronze (springboard); 1952 gold (platform); 1964, 1968 (U.S. Olympic diving coach); NATIONAL AAU CHAMPIONSHIPS: springboard, platform; SULLIVAN AWARD: 1953.
Sammy Lee was born in Fresno, California, of Korean parents. At both Luther Burbank Jr. High and Benjamin Franklin High School in Los Angeles, he was the first non-Caucasian Student Body President, graduating No. 1 scholastically, and was chosen the school’s top athlete in 1939. While at Occidental College in 1942, he won his first Men’s Senior National AAU springboard and 10 meter tower diving championships. He retired in 1943 upon entering the School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.
In 1946, during his internship, Lee came out of retirement to win another outdoor tower championship. Two summers later in London, he won the Olympic platform diving title and was third in the springboard. Sammy was the first American born Oriental to win an Olympic gold medal for the USA.
As the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games came closer (he had expected to make the 1940 Games at Helsinki before they were cancelled by war), the now retired 28-year-old Dr. Lee again got the bug and came out of retirement at age 32. He made the team and again won the tower, the first man ever to accomplish this double.
In 1953, Sammy Lee won the heralded Sullivan Award as America’s outstanding amateur athlete. In 1960, Dr. Sammy Lee again took medical leave and came out of diving retirement, this time as U. S. Olympic diving coach in Rome. His diving protégé, Bob Webster, won the platform and repeated again in 1964 at Tokyo. Since Sammy Lee was the first man to double in successive platform wins, it seemed only natural to this born winner that his pupil should be the second to accomplish this double.
Sammy Lee is still coming out of retirement as he did in 1963 and 1968 to coach the Japanese and Korean divers. He’s married to a Chinese-American wife with two children, 12 and 7. In 1966, he was named outstanding American of Korean parentage by the American-Korean Society of Southern California.
Dr. Lee specializes in diseases of the ear, including, quite naturally, that occupational hazard known as “swimmer’s ear.” Don’t expect any phony sympathy, however, because, whatever the pain, Sammy Lee has probably had it before.