When sports are mentioned in the United States, few people initially think of Asian American athletes. In fact, most people can’t even name more than a small handful of Asian American athletes. In the United States, athletes are primarily either white or African American. Throughout the years, however, there has been an increase in the number of Asian American athletes, though the number of Asian Americans still cannot be compared to that of white athletes and African American athletes. Sammy Lee and Victoria Manalo-Draves were amongst the first Asian American athletes that broke through the sports barrier. They were the first Asian American athletes to ever win a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in 1948 London Games. Sammy Lee first earned a medical degree due to his father’s wishes. However, he did not give up diving and won a gold medal in platform diving and a bronze on the springboard. He then continued in Helsinki in 1952, to win another gold in platform. Not only was he the first Asian American to do so, Sammy Lee was the first male athlete to win two gold medals in that event.
Following Sammy Lee and Victoria Manalo-Draves, there have been many other Asian American athletes who have been successful in the Olympics. Ford Konno, a Japanese American, won a gold medal in swimming in 1952. Amy Chow led her team to the United States’ first ever team gold medal in gymnastics in 1996. Other notable Asian American athletes that have broke through the sports barrier and opened doors for future generations are Michael Chang (tennis), Jim Paek (hockey), Dat Nguyen (football), Michelle Wie (golf), and Kristy Yamaguichi (ice skating).
In recent years, there has been a great rise in the number of Asian American ice skaters. Other than Kristy Yamaguichi, Michelle Kwan has been very successful as well. In the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, Mirai Nagasu was a representative of the US team. Many of the alternates for the US team were Asian American as well. While the number of Asian American athletes in individual sports is growing at a nice rate, there are still few Asian American athletes on team sports, such as football, basketball, baseball, and hockey.
In recent years though, a few Asian American athletes have played large roles on their teams. Don Wakamatsu has recently made history by becoming the first Asian American coach of a Major League Baseball team, specifically, the Seattle Mariners. Jeremy Lin is a prominent figure on his basketball team at Harvard. Jessica Wong has made a bang her first year on the University of Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey team.
Asian Americans are starting to break through the discrimination and stereotypes holding them back from participating in sports. With that and the success of Asian American athletes from previous generations, the interest in sports of Asian Americans is slowly growing.
Written by: Francis Kelly, Christine Lee, Jordan Lee, Connie Li