Dr. Samuel “Sammy” Lee, 91, was the first Asian-American to win an Olympic gold medal for the U.S. at the 1948 London games, and the first man to win back-to-back gold medals in Olympic platform diving.
As a twelve-year-old in 1932, Lee dreamed of becoming a diver, but at the time Latinos, Asians and African-Americans were only allowed to use Fresno’s Brookside Pool on Wednesdays, on what was called “international day”: the day before the pool was scheduled to be drained and refilled with clean water. Because 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. Lee practiced by jumping into the pit.
I’ve learned so much about Olympians in the past few weeks, and this guy was a fucking champ. This article on Investors Business Daily goes a bit more in depth on what Mr. Lee was up against. Only having access to a pool ONCE a week, having to swallow his pride and train with a douchebag eventually led him to the Olympics where he beat out his competitors who probably had an advantage over him with the luxury of being able to train in a pool at their leisure. Then he came back four years later and did it again!
Lee went on to become an ear, nose, and throat doc, serve in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during the Korean War–wonder what that was like for a Korean American–and, later, coach diving legend Greg Louganis to a silver medal in the 1976 Olympics. He’s a member of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, has a square named after him in LA’s K-town, and is now retired and living in Huntington Beach, CA.