Sammy Lee, American diver, Died at 96


Samuel “Sammy” Lee was born on August 1, 1920, and died on December 2, 2016.

He was an American diver of Korean descent.

Lee was the first Asian American to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States and the first man to win back-to-back gold medals in Olympic platform diving.

He was born to parents of Korean descent, who owned what he described as “a little chop suey restaurant”.

Lee’s father, who was fluent in English and Korean and who tutored in French, graduated with a degree in civil engineering from Occidental College, but was unable to find work due to his Asian ancestry.

He was then forced to open a chop suey restaurant and market.

When he was 12 years old living near Los Angeles, Lee saw and was motivated by the many Olympics banners and souvenirs on display for the Summer Olympics being held in Los Angeles that year.

Later in that same year, Lee found that he could do somersaults much better than all of his friends, which led to his goal of becoming an Olympic champion in diving.

His parents moved to Highland Park, a neighborhood of Los Angeles.

At the time, Latinos, Asians and African-Americans were only allowed to use the nearby Brookside Park Plunge in Pasadena on Wednesdays, on what was called “international day”: the day before the pool was scheduled to be drained and refilled with clean water.

But Lee needed a place to practice and could not regularly use the public pool, his coach dug a pit in his backyard and filled it with sand.

He practiced by jumping into the pit.

He attended Franklin High School and later was a student-athlete at Occidental, where he received his undergraduate degree before attending the University of Southern California School of Medicine, where he received his M.D. in 1947.

Sammy Lee passed away at 96 years old.