Sunday, December 4, 2016

RIP: Sammy Lee overcame racial bias to become diving legend

Courtesy of USC
Dr. Sammy Lee coached at the University of Southern California.
By Louis Chan

THE SWIMMING, Olympic and AsianAmerican communities are joining family and friends in mourning the death of Olympic gold medal diver Sammy Lee. Lee died Dec. 2 from Pneumonia. He was 96 years old at his death.

The Korean/American became the first Asian/American man to win an Olympic gold medal in 1948 at the London games and again in 1952 in Helsinki in the 10-meter diving competition. 

His teammate and good friend was Victoria Manolo, a Filipino/American, who also won two gold medals in diving at the same Olympics. She was the first Asian/American to win gold for the U.S. when she won the 3-meter diving category, the first of two gold medals she was to win. One of the first person's to congratulate her was Lee, who would later win his gold. 

Sammy Lee in mid-dive.
Lee later coached many Olympic greats including four-time gold medalist Greg Louganis, who is of Samoan and Swedish descent and an LGBT activist.

“He taught me at a very early age the responsibility of being (an) ambassador to not only my sport of diving but to the world,” Louganis said in a statement. “I was only 16 at my first Olympics with him as my coach.”

Hongping Li, the head diving coach at the University of Southern California, counts Lee as a mentor.

“I’m going to miss him as a mentor, as a loving father and a very kind human being,” said Li to CBS Los Angeles.

As with many Asian/American pioneers, Lee had to overcome racism. He was only allowed to practice in a Los Angeles pool once a week, the day non-Whites were allowed to use it.
(Views From the Edge contributed to this report. Earlier versions of this report mistkenly named Lee as the first Asian/American to win a gold medal. Filipina/American Victoria Manolo won her gold days before Lee won his.)