Back to Curriculum Guides

Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story


Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: the Sammy Lee Story. Paula Yoo, Lee & Loo Books, Inc., New York 2005

Grade Level: 3-5

ISBN & Cost: 13: 978-1-58430-247-6

10: 1-58430-247-X $11.53


Synopsis: In 1932, Sammy Lee, a Korean American, can only use the public pool on the one day that “people of color” are allowed in. He decides he wants to become an Olympic diver but his father has his heart set on Sammy becoming a doctor. If America is truly a land of opportunity, can both their dreams come true?


General Review: SixteenYears in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story, is a simple biographical sketch of Sammy Lee an Olympic gold medal winner in the diving competition. Although this is more of a picture book, all age levels will be inspired by Sammy Lee’s determination and success despite all the obstacles he faced. Students will also be able to relate to the conflict Sammy Lee faces in having his own dream yet respecting the dreams his parent has for him.


Themes: Lee, Sammy, 1920- ; Divers – United States – Biography; Springboard diving; Discrimination in sports


Author information: According to the Lee & Loo website, Book Talk with Paula Yoo, Paula Yoo has wanted to be an author every since she can remember. Her goal has been to get her own picture on the back of one of her books. She stumbled across the story about Sammy Lee when she was do research for her Masters in Fine Arts and she was fascinated by him. She wanted to tell his story so that his accomplishments would not be forgotten. You can find this interview at:


Discussion Questions:


  1. Have you had a dream like Sammy’s but faced several obstacles that made you think you might not be able to achieve it? If you have faced obstacles what could you do to overcome them?


  1. Sammy Lee wanted to be an Olympic athlete but his father wanted him to be a doctor. Have you and your parents talked about your future? Do you share a similar conflict or have your parents left it up to you to decide?


  1. When Sammy Lee was growing up he faced discrimination, do you think immigrants still face discrimination? If so, have things gotten better, staid the same, or gotten worse for minorities?





Standard 9: Benchmark 2: Research information about famous immigrants and create a

summary about one of them to share with your class.


Standard 1: Benchmark 4: Research biographies about Olympic athletes, select one and

share the information with the rest of the class. Explain why you chose the athlete you



Standard 3: Indicator 3. Write your own success story describing a goal you have for your self and indicate how you are working towards achieving it.


Similar Books for Further Reading

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Doctor Luther King, JR

The Man Who Walked between the Towers