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So I became the one who tried the most difficult dives." In the years since his Olympic achievements, Lee said he believes much has changed with regard to the perception of Asian Americans in athletics.

"Sixty years ago, they said you had to be Caucasian, slender and tall to be a diver," he said.

This is true of many Chinese, Japanese, Asian Indians and Koreans, four of the six largest Asian American population groups.

Consequently, the desire to play sports to enter mainstream American life is not part of the fabric of most Asian communities. Still, Asian Americans face as many stereotypes on the field of play as they do off it. "It is common that coaches and teachers at schools presume that an Asian American kid belongs in the science lab, not on the football field," Whang said.

Many from these countries remain in poverty in the United States.

But in general, Asian immigrants come to America already highly educated and of middle- or upper-class means.

According to Census 2000, there are 10.2 million Asian Americans in the United States, a number that is anticipated to grow significantly in the years ahead.

Yet ask average sports fans to name an Asian American athlete and most would struggle to rattle off but a handful of familiar names.

That is, about the convergence of African-Americans and Caucasians on the field of play.Unlike many other ethnic and racial groups that have turned to sports as a way to break into mainstream America and break out of the cycles of poverty, Asian Americans do not look upon sports as a road to reach social, economic or educational goals.As recent census data suggests, they already have a higher household income and a higher graduation rate, both on the high school and college level, than any other demographic group, including whites.But the implications can be more far reaching than seemingly insignificant results on the athletic field.That Asian Americans are picking up golf clubs after watching Tiger Woods and Se Ri Pak dominate as professionals, or are putting on skates after watching Apolo Anton Ohno and Kwan compete as Olympians, eventually their participation will lead to more integration of Asian Americans in other aspects of American society.

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