2012 Summer Olympics: Meet Dr. Sammy Lee, Gold Medalist (Diving)!

2012 Summer Olympics: Meet Dr. Sammy Lee, Gold Medalist (Diving)!

SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY (Lee & Low 2005) written by Paula Yoo and illustrated by Dom Lee

Today marks the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London! You know what that means… I will disappear into my Olympics batcave for the next two weeks! I’ve always been a HUGE Olympics fanatic (both summer & winter events). Although I’m not athletic and I don’t watch any sports, for some reason, I’m HOOKED on the Olympics. Which makes it fitting that my first children’s picture book, SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY (Lee & Low Books 2005, illustrated by Dom Lee), was about Olympic Gold Medalist diving champion Dr. Sammy Lee. (For more info on my book, go here: https://paulayoo.com/books-sixteen.html)

To celebrate the 2012 Summer Olympics, I am presenting a fun photo album of what it was like to meet Dr. Lee and write about his life for children. He is an amazing man – he’s surprisingly down to earth and funny, too! It was such a pleasure and privilege to meet him. I even got to see his Olympic medals and the torches he carried for later Olympics as well! Dr. Lee won gold medals in diving at the 1948 London Olympics and the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, becoming the first male diver to win back-to-back gold medals. He later coached diver Greg Louganis to the Silver Medal in the 1976 Olympics.

Dr. Sammy Lee, Olympic Gold Medalist!

(Keep reading after the jump for more stories and photos of Dr. Sammy Lee!)

Dr. Sammy Lee – he’s diving but he looks like he’s in flight!

Below are some fun pictures of my meeting with Dr. Lee back in 2004 when we were researching the book. The book was illustrated by one of my favorite children’s book artists, DOM LEE. (His website is here: http://www.domandk.com/)

Below is a shot of the opening page of my book, with the beautiful artwork by Dom Lee. As a child, Dr. Lee was unable to use his town swimming pool except on Wednesdays because of the color of his skin. On Wednesdays, the town pool allowed all the children of color to use the pool in what they called “International Day.” It was a thinly disguised way to segregate children of color from the rest of the town. Other acts of discrimination Dr. Lee would face would include not being allowed to attend his own high school prom and being refused entry to a restaurant with his fellow diving teammates to celebrate winning a national championship. But Dr. Lee never let this prejudice stand in the way of his dream to become an Olympic champion.

Opening page of my book, SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY, art illustrated by Dom Lee

And here’s a shot I took of Dr. Lee in 2004 standing in front of the SAME SWIMMING POOL he used in his childhood… now he is an honored guest at this pool, where they consider him an American hero.

Dr. Lee stands by the same gate of his town pool. As a child, he was refused entry because of the color of his skin. Today, he is an honored guest and always welcome.

As an Olympic fanatic, I was so excited to see Dr. Lee’s actual Olympic medals from the 1948 and 1952 Olympics. I had goosebumps when I saw these medals. Wow! (He won the gold and bronze in 1948 and another gold in 1952.)

Dr. Lee’s three Olympic medals – two golds and one bronze. Not bad! 🙂

Dr. Lee was also a good sport and didn’t mind when I asked him to pose for a billion pictures. 🙂 Here he is standing proudly by his Olympic medals…

Dr. Lee stands proudly by his Olympic medals.

And here is Dr. Lee posing (such a good sport!) with two of the torches he ran with as a torch bearer for past Olympics.

Dr. Lee holds up the Olympic torches he ran with for two Olympics! I was so envious that he got to keep them!

Finally, below is a picture of illustrator Dom Lee, Dr. Sammy Lee and I posing with his medals. Wow. What an honor to meet an American hero!

L-R: Book illustrator Dom Lee, Dr. Sammy Lee, and me!


Hope you enjoyed this visit with the amazing Dr. Sammy Lee. It was an honor to meet him and to write about him. 

Well, the 2012 Summer Olympics starts in a few hours. I’ll be in the Olympic Batcave for the next two weeks, watching every. single. event. 🙂 Go USA! USA! 🙂 Until my next blog, as always, please remember… Happy Writing! WRITE LIKE YOU MEAN IT! 🙂


9 Responses

  1. Carol Ammary says:

    Dear Paula,

    Dr. Sammy Lee was my ear, nose, and throat doctor when I was a little girl. Since I had lots of issues , I visited him often and he did surgery on me, removing my toncils and adnoids. I remember his gentle manner. We passed his diving school every time we drove to his office. My mother told me the stories about him and his rise to sucess, but only really knew him as my kind doctor. Later in my life, during the Bicentenial, I visited Washington D.C. I went to a special exhibit honoring Olympians, and as I walked through I saw a larger than life portrait of someone familiar to me–I said “That’s my doctor, Dr. Sammy Lee”. Then, of course, I remembered the connection. I later saw him running with the toarch in one of the Olympic opening ceremonies. I’m proud to have known him, and that he did not let discrimination stop him from atchieving his dreams. Thank for writing your story. I am excited to know more about him.

    Carol Ammary

    • paulayoo says:

      Hi Carol. Wow, thank you for your amazing story on Dr. Lee! I love this story – what a small world. Thank you so much for sharing. I hope you are also enjoying the Olympics as well! best, Paula

  2. Tracy Green says:

    I also remember Dr. Lee as my ENT as a little girl. I had tubes put in over and over, and then I finally had to have my ear drum replace, I was 11 a the time. I remember being very scared when they wanted to put me under and as I was in the operating room, I asked for Dr. Lee before they put me under. I trusted him so much. He was always so wonderful, kind and very gentle. It was great seeing him on TV at the 2012 Olympics. One of my treasures is a signed autograph of Dr. Lee doing a Swan dive on his 50th birthday, it is proudly displayed in my house, with loving memories of a wonderful person and Dr.

    • paulayoo says:

      Hi Tracy. Thanks for this amazing story and how wonderful to know Dr. Lee was also a Gold Medalist when it came to being a fantastic doctor! 🙂 best, Paula

  3. Bill Eddy says:

    Dr. Lee –

    I introduced myself to you about 2 years ago. I told you that you will probably remember competing against my Uncle, Tom Eddy while you were both in school at U.S.C., and, of course, you did.

    Tom passed away years ago, but he talked about you many times. Tom’s son, Stephen has been like a brother to me, and lives in Southern California.

    My wife, Linda and I live in Newport Beach.

    Warmest wishes to you, Dr. Sammy Lee

    Bill Eddy

  4. Dear Paula, how great to learn that you’ve written up Dr. Sammy Lee’s story, and published a children’s book on his life. I am in the beginning stages of writing an essay about swimming pool culture in LA and racial covenants and am wondering if I could contact you offline about your interviews with Dr. Lee. Thanks!- patricia

    • paulayoo says:

      Thanks Patricia. You can email me at paula at paulayoo dot com I look forward to talking with you.

  5. mark wright says:

    hello my name is mark wright i was a patient of dr sam lee he had put tubes in my ears i like to t see how he is doing this day .

    • paulayoo says:

      Hi Mark. Thank you for your comment. Dr. Lee is doing well and in good spirits! Thank you for reading my blog. Happy Thanksgiving. Best, Paula

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