As artist Robert B. Krantz on Friday unveiled a three-foot-tall bronze artwork honoring Dr. Sammy Lee, the first Korean American to win a gold medal in the Olympics, Krantz offered an anecdote from Lee's coaching days.
Known as a great but insistent diving teacher, Lee trained two-time Olympic gold-medal winners Bob Webster and Greg Louganis. He won a gold medal and a bronze medal in the 1948 Olympics in London and a gold in the 1952 Helsinki Games.
But Krantz' story at a Rotary Club luncheon at the Hotel Laguna had to do with a young diver.
"The diver was not getting off the board as high as Lee wanted her to," Krantz said. "And, Lee had this stick, a long pointer. No whip. He held it up, about three feet above his head, saying to her, 'I want you to get that high off the board.' She looked at him and said, 'I can't go up that high.' But Lee was insistent. He looked at her and firmly said, 'I didn't ask for your opinion.' Well, the diver cleared the mark."
As Lee was introduced to the Rotarians, the diminutive, five-foot-tall coach told them: "Krantz didn't tell you I stood on a box when I held that stick up."
Lee's self-deprecating style of humor always seems to catch audiences off guard. It belies a man whose accomplishments include becoming a U.S. Army major, a physician, Olympic diver, and diving for the U.S. Olympic diving team. Now retired as an ear surgeon and living in Huntington Harbour, the 73-year-old dynamo has not lost anything growing older.
He still, on occasion, helps train a group of high school-level and younger divers at the Mission Viejo Recreation Center's Olympic diving complex.
Lee doesn't sway from debate on the center's future which is in question due to funding.
"It's a shame if we lose that training facility because it has produced more gold medal Olympic winners in swimming and diving than anywhere else in the United States," Lee said.
Krantz said it was this energy, Lee's motivation for trying to get the maximum from everyone he trained, condensed and put in visual form in the bronze.
The artwork, commissioned by the Laguna Beach-based Kalos Kagathos Foundation, is a three-piece representational bronze that has a world globe at its base, with two hands emanating and supporting two statuesque divers of both sexes.
Bruce Hopping, Kalos foundation chairman, said the artwork will be known as the Sammy Lee Award, which is selected by the World Diving Coaches Assn., every four years as the most prestigious award in competitive diving.
The artwork will be displayed at the International Swimming Hall of Fame Museum at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Hopping said.