Diving Legend Sammy Lee’s Thoughts on Divers Going Pro

By Sammy Lee, Guest Editorial Comment

PHOENIX, Arizona, November 5. RECENTLY, news came out that USA Diving's Athlete of the Year Thomas Finchum has passed over college and turn pro, as reported by the Indy Star.

This news has caused some reverberations among the diving community. So much so, that legendary diver Sammy Lee, who was the first man to win diving titles in two straight Olympics, checks in with the following guest editorial comment about his college days.

I never won an NCAA diving title while at Occidental College where I graduated as a Pre-Med Student in 1943. I did win outdoor national diving gold in the three-meter and 10-meter in 1942. I did not have a diving coach, and as a pre-med student, I had to regulate my workouts in between chemistry classes. While I had an hour to wait for the drying of solutions, I would squeeze in a 30-minute workout.

Every practice session I would compete with myself and never balked. I crashed many times but would do my list just as I would in competition. In the summer at the L.A. Olympic pool, where the 1932 Olympics were held, I would do the same and when I had the time I would repeat each dive three times on three-meter and three times on 10-meter. I did the optionals first, when my strength was best. The strategy worked. I was performing well and winning events. So what I am saying is…strive for quality, rather than quantity workouts.

The first two years on campus at the University of Southern California Medical School during lunch time, when my classmates played bridge, checkers or chess, I would go workout by running to the pool, which was about a quarter-mile away. My classmates would say, "Sam, you are an old man. Forget it!" They did not realize their taunts only made me work harder. It's true I was older than many of the athletes on the 1948 Olympic Team and most of the athletes on the 1952 Olympic Team, but that did not diminish the thrill of winning the gold medals. It took 28 years to get to the top of that victory stand, and hearing the national anthem as our flag was raised sounded good to those "old" ears. When I returned to the podium at age 32, I saluted the Star Spangled Banner with tears in my eyes.

But it never occurred to me that I would make a living through diving. I had to have a profession. My Olympic dream began when I was 12, and my Dad said he would support me 100 percent if I would make the same effort to become a medical doctor.

Yes, I kept that promise and practiced medicine for more than 25 years. I am also proud to say that I was never named in a malpractice suit, because when in doubt I referred the patient to someone who was better than I in a particular procedure. Today, you are at risk because if your M.D. refers too much he is dropped from the insurance plan! Patients beware!

So a word of encouragement to the divers present and future… diving will not give you the life of the affluent, but your footsteps will be on the hearts of all you have helped along the way!

Sammy Lee, M.D. (retired past 25 years)

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