Two-Time Olympic Gold Medal Diver Dr. Sammy Lee, USC's Oldest Surviving Olympian, Dies

    Dr. Sammy Lee
    Dec. 3, 2016

    Two-time Olympic gold medalist diver Dr. Sammy Lee, who was USC’s oldest surviving Olympian, died on Friday, Dec. 2, in Newport Beach, Calif., due to pneumonia. He was 96.

    Lee, a diminutive (5-foot) Korean descendant, overcame discrimination to achieve his goals of being an Olympic champion and medical doctor. He was the first Asian-American to win an Olympic gold medal for the U.S., the first man to win back-to-back Olympic golds in platform diving (1948 and 1952) and the oldest diver (at age 32) to win an Olympic gold medal. He also won a bronze medal in the springboard in the 1948 Olympics.

    He was the AAU national champion in the platform and springboard in 1942 (becoming the first person of color to win a national diving title) and in the platform in 1946. He won the 1953 Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the U.S. He was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968 and U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1990. He was honored with a spot on the Anaheim/Orange County Walk of Stars in 2009.

    After attending Occidental College, he graduated from the USC School of Medicine in 1947 and became an ear, nose and throat physician. He served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in the Korean War.

    He became a coach to such Olympic diving champions as Pat McCormick and Greg Louganis and was the 1960 and 1964 U.S. Olympic diving coach. Lee served on the President’s Council for Physical Fitness and remained an active swimmer and golfer in his 90s.

    Sammy Lee Square, at the corner of Olympic Blvd. and Normandie Ave. in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, was named after him in 2010. In 2013, the Los Angeles Unified School District named one of its elementary schools the Dr. Sammy Lee Medical and Health Sciences Magnet School.

    He is survived by his wife, Roz, two children, Pamela and Sammy II, and three grandchildren.

    Information on a service for Lee is pending.