LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Walk past the corner of Olympic Boulevard and Normandie Avenue in Koreatown and you’ll notice the name Dr. Sammy Lee, the same name that’s memorialized at the dive tower at the University of Southern California – where Hongping Li is the head diving coach
“The person responsible for me to be in this country and able to attend USC is Dr. Sammy Lee,” said Li.
KCAL9’s Jeff Nguyen spoke to a man who knew Lee as advisor, mentor and friend Saturday evening.
Lee — two time Olympic gold medalist also known for mentoring four-time gold winner Greg Louganis — died of pneumonia on Friday at 96.
Lee won the gold medal in platform diving at the Olympics in 1948 and again in 1952.
Li says he didn’t know about the back to back Olympic wins until years after he met Dr. Lee as a coach.
“He would never brag about his accomplishments unless we learn about it ourselves,” said Li.
During his heydey — Sammy Lee overcame discrimination.
He was only allowed to practice at an LA pool one day a week – when non-whites could use it – just before the water was drained and replaced.
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He made up for that by practicing and jumping onto a sand pile.
“I couldn’t imagine how you could keep that level of competitiveness,” Li says.
Sammy Lee won gold — back when Olympians didn’t get lucrative endorsement deals.
He made his living as a renowned doctor after graduating from Occidental College and USC Medical School.
Three years ago, the Dr. Sammy Lee Medical and Health Science Magnet Elementary School was dedicated in his honor.
“I’m going to miss him as a mentor, as a loving father and a very kind human being,” says Li.
Dr. Lee was a teacher himself and loved teaching future generations of athletes.
His best-known pupil: Louganis who Lee coached to a silver at the 1976 games.
He also helped Hongping Li earn a full ride to USC and later advocated for him to become the coach at his alma mater.
LEe leaves behind his wife of 66 years Rosalind, their daughter, son, and three grandchildren.