Sammy Lee, first Asian-American to win Olympic gold, dies at 96

Saturday December 3rd, 2016

Sammy Lee, a two-time Olympic gold medal-winning diver who later mentored four-time Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis, has died. He was 96.

The University of Southern California said Saturday that Lee died Friday of pneumonia in Newport Beach. He was the school's oldest living Olympian.

The 5-foot Lee, who was of Korean descent, was the first Asian-American to win an Olympic gold medal for the U.S.

Lee became the first man to win consecutive Olympic titles in platform diving in 1948 and 1952 and was the oldest diver at age 32 to win Olympic gold. He also earned a bronze in 3-meter springboard at the 1948 Games.

Lee later coached Olympic diving champions Pat McCormick and Louganis, who swept the springboard and platform events at the 1984 and '88 Olympics. Lee coached the U.S. team at the 1960 and '64 Olympics.

He remained an active swimmer and golfer into his 90s.

Lee was the AAU national champion in platform and springboard diving in 1942, becoming the first person of color to win a national diving title, and in platform in 1946. He won the 1953 Sullivan Award as the nation's top amateur athlete.

He was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968 and U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1990.

After attending Occidental College in Los Angeles, 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.

Sammy Lee Square in Los Angeles' Koreatown section was named in his honor 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.

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

Services were pending.

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