Legendary diver Sammy Lee has passed away after a bout with pneumonia. He was 96 years old. Lee’s passing was announced on Facebook on Saturday by his daughter-in-law Gina Lee.
Lee was the 1948 and 1952 Olympic gold medalist on the 10 meter platform event, making him the first man to win back-to-back gold medals in Olympic platform diving. He was also the first Asian-American to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States.
Lee, of Korean descent, rose to fame in the United States in a difficult time for Asian-Americans. He won his first gold medal in the first Olympic Games after the end of World War II, during which the United States interred many citizens of Asian descent.
Korea was controlled by the United States until the end of World War II, Two years after his first gold medal, on June 25th, 1950, civil war broke out in Korea between the communist-support north and the American-supported south, further raising tensions. The war didn’t end until after Lee earned his second Olympic gold medal.
A video of Dr. Lee recounting his diving days at Occidental College:
Lee earned his Medical Doctorate in 1947, and after his diving career ended he served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in Korea, from 1953-55.
A member of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, Lee won the 1953 James E. Sullivan Award, given to the most outstanding amateur athlete in the United States. After his tour, he coached Olympic divers Pat McCormick, Bob Webster, and the best known american diver in history Greg Louganis.
In 2013, Lee mysteriously disappeared while going to the Los Caballeros sports club for a swim. More than 24 hours later, he was found disoriented in his car and was reunited with his family.
In 2010, the corner of Olympic Boulevard and Normandie Avenue in Los Angeles’ Koreatown was named Sammy Lee Square in his honor; as was in 2013 the Dr. Sammy Lee Medical and Health Sciences Magnet School in the Los Angeles Unified School District.