Jul 15, 2012

Olympic Inspirations

With much of the country sweltering through the hottest summer in memory, and many of us enduring a punishing drought, it's refreshing to turn our thoughts to London and the summer Olympics. The opening ceremonies are less than two weeks away, and I still haven't packed. 

Oh, that's right, I'll be viewing the events and festivities virtually, so I have plenty of time to prepare with picture books, instead.

The last time the Olympics were held in London, in 1948, Sammy Lee was 28 years old. By then he had fulfilled his father's dream by becoming a doctor and was working in the US Army medical corps. The story of how he overcame racial discrimination and restrictions to achieving his own dream of becoming a championship diver is told in SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS - THE SAMMY LEE STORYby Paula Yoo, illustrated by Dom Lee.
Dr. Sammy Lee won the US National diving gold in 1946 and qualified to represent the USA in London in 1948.
Yoo and Lee do full justice to Lee's inspiring story of personal vision and persistence, with additional information about Dr. Lee's further accomplishments provided in the author's notes. He continued diving, repeating his ten meter gold medal in 1952, and coaching notable divers to win gold medals, including Greg Louganis. Scroll down this link to view a video of the ten meter platform dive by Louganis in the 1988 Olympics. Notice the final frames in which Dr. Lee congratulates him on his win.

An excellent and detailed review, additional links, and a video interview with Dr. Sammy Lee can be found at Maw Books Blog. Apart from the remarkable sports achievements of Dr. Lee, the story is even more inspiring in depicting the discrimination and restrictions that he experienced and overcame without giving up, retaliating, or reflecting back the hatred he experienced. Instead, he used those barriers as motivation to prove his father's words true: "In America, you can achieve anything if you set your heart to it."
**Winner of the 2005 Lee and Low New Voices Award.

WILMA UNLIMITED: HOW WILMA RUDOLPH BECAME THE FASTEST WOMAN IN THE WORLD, by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by David Diaz, was featured in a post earlier this year, but deserves mention here in connection with outstanding Olympic achievements, overcoming limitations of health and society, and service to her community. (In addition, if think you're feeling overheated, the Rome Olympics in which she won her medals took place during a record heat wave.) This title was also featured on the Sports Heroes blog, where you can click to read the text in Spanish.

If you are weathering the summer heat under a shady tree, a breezy porch, a blistering beach, or an air-conditioned library, here are more links with inspiring Olympic stories and other sport titles you'll enjoy:
You can view a video biography which includes interviews with Dr. Lee.

As always, I welcome comments about what inspires you, especially if it is in a picture book!


  1. I had not known of Dr. Lee - what an inspiring story.

  2. Here's hoping you (and many others) take time to explore his story in this book. It pairs so well with other titles about mid-century social standards and dealing with discrimination, as well as goal-setting and Olympic challenges.
    Happy to have introduced you to Dr. Sammy Lee.

  3. These both look amazing. I am especially interested in Dr. Lee's story, partly because we are drawn to multicultural stories and those about overcoming discrimination, and partly because I love diving. I used to do 3m springboard! I want to introduce it to my kids but there are no diving boards in this part of Japan. So a literary introduction will have to do!

    1. Arigatou gozaimasu for stopping by.
      I'm excited to know that you'll be sharing these titles with kids. If you are impressed with Dr. Lee and Wilma from the post, just wait until you read the books! As for sharing the love of diving, you'll be especially interested in Dr. Lee's training methods when he lacked access to proper facilities.
      Literary introductions are a major POWER of picture books!

  4. thank you very interesting information and good luck always


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