Though she didn’t begin diving until age 16, Vicki Manalo was a natural. The athleticism and grace that would make her an Olympic champion was quickly evident.
When her future coach and husband, Lyle Draves, saw her dive when she was 17, he recalled thinking, “Oh, boy, there’s a champion.”
But Manalo’s path to Olympic gold wasn’t easy.
She was born in San Francisco, the daughter of a Filipino father and English mother. Her family had little money, and she didn’t learn to swim until she was 10. When she was 17 she was denied membership to the city’s Fairmont Hotel Swimming and Diving Club because she was Filipina. The club’s coach finally agreed to work with her, but only after setting up what Manalo called a “special club” just for her. He also required her to compete under her mother’s maiden name, Taylor.
Years later, she called the coach “a prejudiced man” who wanted to separate her from the other divers.
Draves became her coach in 1944 when she was 19. She won her first national championship in 1946, the same year they were married.
Two years later, as a four-time national champion, she made the 1948 U.S. Olympic Team. In London she became the first woman ever to win gold in both the 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform in the same Olympic Games. In winning the springboard on Aug. 3, she became the first Asian-American Olympic champion. Two days later, American Sammy Lee, of Korean ancestry, matched her by winning the men’s 10-meter platform.
|Vicki Manalo Draves competes at the London 1948 Olympic Games.|
Vicki Draves went into her final dive in the springboard finals trailing teammate Zoe Ann Olsen. She planned to do a back 1½ somersault.
“I was thinking, ‘Please, God, help me,’” she recalled years later. “I remember sitting by Sammy, and I was so nervous that I would shake between each dive as though I was cold. I remember saying to Sammy, ‘I can’t do this, Sammy. I am not going to make it.’ He said, ‘You came all this distance and you are going to give up? Get up there and do what you are supposed to do.’”
She executed a flawless dive to earn gold. Later, Draves and decathlete Bob Mathias were selected the top U.S. athletes at the Games.
After the Games she toured with aquatics shows and became a coach, guiding Pat McCormick to four gold medals in 1952 and ’56.
Vicki Manalo Draves died in 2010 at the age of 85.
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.