Sammy Lee’s Recollections About Early Years of Diving

By Sammy Lee, Guest Editorial Comment

PHOENIX, Arizona, November 11. RECENTLY, legendary diver Sammy Lee submitted a guest editorial to with his thoughts about divers going pro.

Lee, the first person to win diving titles in two consecutive Olympics, checks in with another editorial, this time about some of his memories from his early years of diving.

In my first comment regarding education and diving, it suddenly dawned on me when I said I had no diving coach while at Occidental College. I should have said I had no on-campus diving coach. My coach was big Jim Ryan, who was 6'4" and weighed 275 lbs. He put up a sand pit in his backyard and had Dick Smith and I dig out the pit and mount the one-meter Brandsten springboard that his friend Ernst Brandsten sent to him.

Dick & I would practice there on weekends during school days. The sand pile was even with the board. Coach Jim ordered Dick & me to do forward, reverse, back and inward doubles. We huddled for a couple of minutes and said "Are you going to catch us if we don't make it?" His reply was "If you are dumb enough to break your necks, you deserve to die!" Some 70-plus years later, my back is still feeling the effects of those landings in the sand. I had back surgery in 1984 because of stenosis, and now it has gone to a higher level but because of my age no further surgery is advised! At least I can still swing a golf club… not well…but enough to aggravate me.

At our sand pit workouts, the famous Farid Simaika, who got a silver medal in Amsterdam 1928 platform diving would drop by. I recall one wet rainy afternoon I was washing off the sand stuck inside my trunks with tears of anger and frustration from Jim Ryan's verbal abuse. Farid said "you know why he is so tough on you? At the 1928 Olympics, I won the gold but 3 days later they said there was an error and replayed the medal ceremony. I gave the gold to Pete DesJardins. Pete said Farid you keep it we know you won!" Farid said "No, I will get my chance at the 1932 L.A. Olympics." Farid said that after the repeat of the medal ceremony Jim Ryan threw some chairs in the pool and yelled "'I'll be back with a non-white diver and beat all of you!'" That is why he is so tough on you! You are his intended champion!" Farid said that when it came time for the 1932 Olympic Games, the Egyptian Olympic Committee neglected to enter him!

After my gold medal victory at the 1948 London Olympics, the Egyptians came to me and said "You have made Farid a prophet. He said Sammy Lee would be the first non-white diver to win an Olympic diving gold medal." They asked, "Is it true that Farid was beheaded by the Japanese in the South Pacific?" I told them that I never heard that but if I ever found out I would let them know!

Two years later while a resident in otolaryngology at Letterman Army Hospital an Air Force Colonel asked if I was Sammy Lee the diver. I said yes. He said that a member of his crew was aerial photographer Farid Simaika and asked if I knew him. I told him that Farid was my hero. We talked of Farid's disappearance and the rumors of torture at the hands of his Japanese captors. He said that it was true that Farid was beheaded. I asked how he knew. He said "because I was the Commanding Officer who sent him and his crew out on that last mission." He explained that in a subsequent operation a U.S. Olympic swimmer's plane went down. He was captured and sent to a POW compound. The Japanese soldiers in charge had decapitated a number of American airmen and placed their heads on top of stakes about the camp perimeter. The U.S. swimmer recognized Farid's head on one of the bamboo poles!

Ironically, years later in a joint interview with Greg Louganis, the Florida press asked who were my diving heroes and I said Farid Simaika. His son read about my comment in the newspaper and called me from La Jolla, Calif., to invite Roz and me to dinner. At dinner, he was shocked to learn how his Dad died! He and his mother had heard that Farid was a POW in Africa forced to be an interpreter since he was fluent in Arabic, French, and English. Farid's son, a fighter pilot, also was a member of the famous United States Navy Blue Angels!

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