SHE WOULD'VE BEEN RP'S 1st OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST, BUT SHE WON FOR THE U.S.
ATHENS (VIA GLOBE TELECOM), August 23, 2004 (STAR) By Joaquin Henson - (First of two parts) Long before swimming champion Natalie Coughlin came along, there was Victoria Manalo Draves who won gold medals in springboard and platform diving at the 1948 London Olympics.
Coughlin, whose mother is Filipina, took the gold in the 100-meter backstroke in Athens but alas, she swam for the US.
Draves also competed for the Stars and Stripes in 1948 but probably would’ve preferred to swim for the Philippines if only someone suggested the option. The Philippines had no female entry at the London Games and she would’ve easily overshadowed the 24 Filipino athletes, including three swimmers, who returned home empty-handed from the 14th Olympiad.
The US certainly didn’t deserve Draves who because of her Filipino lineage, was refused entry in several swimming clubs in San Francisco. Draves was forced by her coach to use her English mother’s surname, Taylor, instead of her family name Manalo to swim in clubs which frowned on minorities. Her father was often denied entry in clubs where she competed because of his race.
But ethnic discrimination didn’t faze Draves who began diving at the age of 16. She married her diving coach Lyle Draves in 1946 and the half-Filipina, half-English mestiza became the first female diver ever to win two gold medals in the same Olympics and the first Eurasian Olympic medalist in history.
Draves is now 79 living with her husband in Palm Springs. Their four sons–David, Jeffrey, Dale and Kim–were never Olympic champions but became trick divers, specializing in cliff takeoffs from 90 to 100 feet. They are also blessed with four grandchildren.
Two years ago, Draves told San Francisco Chronicle writer Dwight Chapin that she dabbled in "a little master’s diving program" up until 1992 but her water sports activity has since been confined to recreational swimming.
Draves’ Filipino father was a musician and went to the US with a string band from the Philippines. Her mother migrated from England to join a younger sister who was married to a Filipino. Her parents met and married in San Francisco where she grew up in the poor side of town, south of Market.
Draves and a non-identical twin sister were the youngest in the family. The eldest Frances died of cancer and a brother passed away when he was a year old. Coming from a poor family, Draves couldn’t afford the luxuries of a carefree childhood. She was 10 when she took summer swimming lessons from the Red Cross, paying five cents admission to a pool in the Mission district.
Although she took an immediate liking to water, Draves was involved in other sports in high school. She played badminton, basketball and softball.
Draves was attracted to diving because she had a crush on Jack Lavery, a young diver. It was Lavery who introduced Draves to diving coach Phil Patterson. Eventually, Patterson convinced Draves to try her luck as a diver and she was a natural.
Draves graduated from high school in 1942 and took a temporary civil service job in the port surgeon’s office to add to the family’s meager income. With Patterson in the military during World War II, Draves looked for a diving coach and found her future husband.
"All this time, I had been diving on just sheer guts and whatever natural ability I had," recalled Draves in the book "Tales of Gold: An Oral History of the Summer Olympic Games Told by America’s Gold Medal Winners" by Lewis Carlson and John Fogarty. "Nobody had explained to me how to walk on the board, where to place my arms, how to lift up into a dive and the reasons behind all this. Lyle started me over completely, making me begin with very simple dives. I just wish I had had his coaching from the beginning. I think I would have been a far different diver."
(To be continued)
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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