Dr. Samuel (Sammy) Lee
Class of 1938
After attending Occidental College, Sammy Lee entered medical school at Southern Cal. Lee, who was of Korean parentage, won his first AAU title in 1942 and then retired to concentrate on his medical career, but he made a comeback in 1946 when he was again AAU highboard champion. Dr. Lee was the first man to retain an Olympic platform title and when he finally retired from competition, he established a reputation as an outstanding coach, counting among his pupils the next man to win back-to-back golds in the platform, Bob Webster. Lee was in charge of the U.S. diving team at the 1960 Olympics and still judges diving competitions. In his medical career he specialized in diseases of the ear.
According to Wikipedia:
Dr. Samuel ("Sammy") Lee (born August 1, 1920) is the first Asian American to win an Olympic gold medal for the United States and the first man to win back-to-back gold medals in Olympic platform diving. He was born in Fresno, California and is of Korean descent
Lee also won a bronze medal in springboard diving in the 1948 games. His accomplishments were not limited to the athletic field. Lee was a student-athlete at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, where he received his M.D. in 1947. He went on to serve in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in Korea from 1953â€“55, where he specialized in the diseases of the ear. In 1953, while serving his tour of duty in Korea, he won the James E. Sullivan Award, which is awarded annually by the Amateur Athletic Union to the most outstanding amateur athlete in the United States. He went on to coach Olympic divers including Pat McCormick, Bob Webster, and Greg Louganis. He is a member of the US Olympic Hall of Fame.
A landmark in Los Angeles' Koreatown was named after him.
According to Pasadena Weely:
Keeping the dream alive
Olympic legend Sammy Lee and a host of senior athletes prove youâ€™re never too old to be a champion
By Jessica Hamlin 08/07/2008
On Aug. 1, Olympic diver Dr. Sammy Lee turned 88, making him the oldest living Olympic gold medalist.
But that isnâ€™t the only â€œfirstâ€ or â€œonlyâ€ distinction in the Highland Park nativeâ€™s storied athletic career. In the 1948 Games in London, Lee, a Korean-American, became the first Asian-American to win a medal for the United States, bringing home the gold in the menâ€™s platform competition and a bronze medal in the three-meter springboard event.
Four years later in Helsinki â€” at the height of the Korean War â€” Lee did it again, winning his second gold medal for the US in the menâ€™s platform competition. At the ripe old age of 32 â€” having already completed undergrad studies at Occidental College in Eagle Rock, then in 1947 acquiring his medical degree from USC (which only cost $750 a year at the time) â€” Lee became not only the oldest person to win a gold medal in diving, but also the first male to win back-to-back gold medals in the sport. (Weâ€™re not sure, but has a medical doctor ever won Olympic diving gold?)
A lifelong swimmer who still regularly logs miles of laps per week, Lee is now retired from his practice as an ear, nose and throat specialist and has lived in Huntington Harbor since 1978. However, he still remains active with the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center, where he continues a decades-long tradition of mentoring young Olympic hopefuls â€” from gold medalist Bob Webster (in 1960 and 1964) and 1976 silver medalist Greg Louganis to this yearâ€™s batch of world-class divers leaving this week to compete in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.
Still able to maintain such a rigorous physical schedule at 88, Lee â€” along with dozens of other extremely fit men and women ranging from their 50s to well into their 90s â€” has competed in a variety of competitions at the Senior Olympics, held each June and sponsored by the Pasadena Senior Center.
In his 70s, Lee competed in golf and tennis in the Pasadena Senior Olympics, but stopped due to back trouble.
â€œWeâ€™re a bunch of has-beens,â€ Lee quipped. â€œWeâ€™re the over-the-hill gang, but thatâ€™s better than being under.â€
For Lee, the very thing that drove his competitive Olympic ambitions is pretty much the same thing that keeps him going now: He still dreams of winning.
â€œDonâ€™t let anybody ever take away your dream,â€ said Lee. â€œIf you donâ€™t have that, you donâ€™t have a goal.â€
While professional athletes usually end their careers in their 30s, many local seniors are still competing in various sports and proving the athletic spirit never gets old.
Back in June, as the eyes of the world were turning toward Beijing, the Pasadena Senior Olympics was gearing up to showcase skills of seniors, with swimming, running, walking, weight lifting, bowling, cycling, climbing, among other activities.
Cynthia Rosedale, Pasadena Senior Center interim executive director and director of events for the Senior Olympics, recalled a legally blind swimmer and a breast cancer survivor among the inspirational individuals she sees each year.
â€œMy favorite part is going to the events,â€ says Rosedale. â€œYou see a yearâ€™s worth of work culminate.â€
Senior Olympics competitor Sarah Sneider and her husband Harry, a power lifter, could easily be called the king and queen of the Senior Olympics. The couple hosts power-lifting competitions in their home and have been training people for decades.
Their home is literally a shrine to fitness, complete with exercise machines, weights and photos and articles about the two and some of the trainees. Harry trained Olympic high jumper Dwight Stones and even helped chess prodigy Bobby Fischer improve his physical endurance and strength to match his mental skills.
Sarah first entered the Senior Olympics at 50 and still does rope climbing, chin-ups, long jump and power lifting. Still thin and fit at 64, Sarah has won 27 Senior Olympics medals, including four gold medals this year.
â€œI did power lifting because weâ€™ve been training and since it was held in our facility I thought I should participate and set an example,â€ said Sarah. â€œI always thought rope climbing would be a challenge. The goal at first was to make it all the way up and I did. â€¦ What I am probably most proud of is that I can still climb a rope.â€
Three people in their 80s participated in power lifting at last monthâ€™s event, youngsters compared to 95-year-old George Feinstein of Pasadena, who has been an avid jogger as well for the past 60 years.
â€œI joke that instead of a watch I carry a calendar,â€ says Feinstein, who started competing in the Senior Olympics four years ago. â€œI jog every morning, but itâ€™s become more like a brisk walk. I say Iâ€™m a half-fast runner.â€
Feinstein plans to attend the Palo Alto Nationals next year, but says â€œat our age, you canâ€™t predict what weâ€™re going to do next week.â€ But as of last month, Feinstein has taken the gold in the 50-meter and 400-meter runs and the silver in the 100-meter and 200-meter runs in his current 90 to 94 age group.
â€œWhat surprises me is I have published several college textbooks, one is in its seventh edition, and I got virtually no attention for writing those, and then for the fun of it I do a little running, and maybe because of my age I get attention,â€ he said. â€œOur priorities are very distorted. Attention should be given, but there are many more important things.â€
Though he can no longer participate in the LA Marathon, which he ran eight times in his 80s before stopping at age 88, Feinsteinâ€™s focus is staying active.
â€œIf you stop moving youâ€™re dead,â€ says Feinstein. â€œYou need to start moving and keep moving. Itâ€™s not how fast you do it, but that you do it. I donâ€™t let a day go by where I donâ€™t run.â€
â€œItâ€™s not a competition where you are really trying to beat the other people,â€ says Sneider. â€œItâ€™s more encouraging, like a family-type camaraderie. Younger people can tend to be more competitive but older people are more grateful to be healthy. Weâ€™re not elite athletes. Weâ€™re regular people trying to stay fit and active so we can hopefully be healthy for years to come.â€
Since the early 1990s, 73-year-old race walker Shirley Capps has competed in the Pasadena Senior Olympics and other national and international senior championships.
Despite a hip replacement five years ago, Capps won a gold medal at this yearâ€™s Pasadena Senior Olympics road walk, and in the 15 kilometer race at a competition in Riverside last year. She also went to Italy last year to enter the International Senior Games.
â€œThose are really interesting because [the competitors] have different techniques,â€ says Capps. â€œThey develop slightly different styles in their own countries.â€
â€œWhen you look at the camaraderie of the Senior Olympics and the friendships that are made, Shirley really exemplifies that,â€ says Rosedale. â€œSheâ€™s part of this walking group and they are such a support to each other.â€
Capps says she doesnâ€™t feel like she has aged rapidly, something she attributes to race walking.
â€œItâ€™s not like running,â€ says Capps. â€œItâ€™s not hard on your body. Itâ€™s lost its popularity largely because people want to do marathons and maybe because they are not judged when they do those. I wish we had more people because itâ€™s an exciting way of staying in shape and making friends.â€
Another senior who just wonâ€™t quit is 76-year-old track and field competitor Don Leis, who has won 150 medals over six years in six different events.
Leis, who attended John Muir High School in Pasadena as a teen, competes in eight track meets a year through the USA Masters Association, but says his heart is more in the Pasadena and California competitions.
â€œDonâ€™t be afraid or intimidated,â€ says Leis. â€œGetting involved is the first step â€” and you meet the nicest people.â€
After a torn meniscus and two hernia operations Leis is certainly not afraid to continue with his humility still intact.
â€œCertain people are really good athletes that donâ€™t have the money to go to the state championships,â€ says Leis. â€œI like competition and you may win a medal but there are usually about 34 people at the national event and maybe about 15 that didnâ€™t get there because of resources. You canâ€™t really boast because there are a lot of people who would do it if they had the money.â€
The highlights of Leisâ€™ track and field career have been his torch runs at Pasadena City Hall for the past two Senior Olympics, and, he says, â€œthe satisfaction of taking care of myself.â€
Another former educator, Glenn Gruber, taught physical education and, at 59, continues keeping fit through swimming. Gruber swam competitively in high school and college and then took an eight- to nine-year break before participating in the masters competitions at Caltech â€” and hasnâ€™t stopped since 1979.
While he swims at Caltech and participates in the Senior Olympics, Gruber says the levels of competition are different.
â€œThere is more competition in masters because there are more people involved,â€ says Gruber. â€œNot to say that there arenâ€™t tough races in the Senior Olympics because there certainly are.â€
In the 2007 United States Masters Swimming competition in Washington DC, Gruber was the 100-yard freestyle national champion. At the National Senior Games he came in second in the 50-meter, 100-meter and 500-meter.
Among Gruberâ€™s inspirations is Dara Torres, who this year will be the first US swimmer to compete in five Olympic Games.
But just as inspiring have been some of the people Gruber met on the senior circuit.
â€œI was in a qualifying meet in San Diego for the Senior Games and a man was swimming who was probably in his 90s, and his daughter was waiting for him at the end of the pool and had a walker for him, so he got out of the pool and shuffled away,â€ Gruber recalls. â€œThat was inspiring.â€
Finding that goal Lee and his wife, Roz â€” who together invented the Sammy Cool â€˜N Dry Sport Shammy synthetic towel used by swimmers and divers to dry off and by other athletes to stay cool in hot weather â€” will be celebrating this yearâ€™s Olympics by attending the diving competition and the eventâ€™s closing ceremonies.
Lee broke down barriers in the diving world as the first Korean-American to win an Olympic gold medal, in 1948 and 1952. But it was in 1952 that political tensions somewhat eclipsed the euphoria of the quadrennial sports celebration.
â€œI asked a military official if it was morally right to go to the Olympics and he said, â€˜We have plenty of doctors who can heal people but only one doctor who can win in the Olympics,â€™â€ recalls Lee, who also remembered the prejudice of that time and how he and other people of color could only use the public pool one day a week when he was younger.
But not even blatant discrimination could deter him from his goal â€” even if he didnâ€™t really know what that goal was. He remembered being with his dad and seeing Olympic flags flying at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, ushering in the 1932 Olympics. He told his dad he was going to be a champion some day.
â€œMy father said, â€˜What in?â€™ and I said, â€˜Iâ€™ll find it,â€™â€ he said.
Although Lee no longer participates in the Pasadena Senior Olympics, he thinks â€œitâ€™s a great thing.â€ Thatâ€™s because â€œexercise is the key to longevity,â€ he said.
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