In honor of Title IX turning 45 years old and Olympic Day, we want to recognize the women of Team USA who paved the way in and out of the pool.
King represented her country on multiple fronts, serving in the United States Air Force and competing in the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1966, King joined the U.S. Air Force and by the time she won her Olympic gold medal on springboard in 1972, she held the rank of captain. King became diving coach at the U.S. Air Force Academy, becoming the first woman ever to be a faculty member at a military academy in the U.S. She retired from the Air Force in 1992 as a full colonel. King played an instrumental role in the implementation of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, working alongside President Gerald Ford as a member of the Presidential Commission to study Olympic sports.
Draves was a pioneer in the sport of diving in and out of the pool. Born on December 31, 1924 in Los Angeles to a Filipino father and English mother, Draves faced prejudice and racial discrimination growing up. It became such an issue that she had to use her mother’s maiden name, Taylor, to train at the then racially conscious swimming clubs in San Francisco. In 1942, Draves met fellow Asian-American Olympian Sammy Lee who introduced her to her future coach and husband, Lyle Draves. The London 1948 Olympic Games proved to be historic for her as she won gold on both 10-meter and 3-meter. She was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1969 and became an advocate for the Filipino Education Center in San Francisco’s South of Market district.
Irwin has made the most Olympic teams of any American woman with her qualifying for the 1948, 1952, 1956 and 1960 teams. Irwin’s first medal came at the Helsinki 1952 Olympic Games, winning bronze in women’s platform. She then collected her second and final medal at the Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games, claiming silver in women’s platform.
Wilkinson suffered a serious foot injury six months prior to the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, keeping her sidelined in the months leading up to the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. She pressed through trials with her foot still not fully healed and made the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team. Each stage of the women’s 10-meter competition in Sydney provided more and more drama as Wilkinson eventually took the top spot on the podium, outscoring China’s Li Na by 1.74 points for gold.
Poynton-Hill still holds the American record for youngest Olympian ever, having barely passed her 13th birthday at the Amsterdam 1928 Olympic Games where she won silver in women’s springboard. Poynton-Hill’s career continued to blossom as she went on to win gold on platform in 1932 and 1936 and added a bronze on springboard in 1936.
Kelci Bryant and Abby Johnston
Bryant and Johnston collected the first synchronized Olympic medal for U.S. women by forging silver in the women’s 3-meter competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games. The pair held off Canada by 5.10 to seal second place and etch their place in USA Diving history.
Decades of Dominance
The U.S. women absolutely dominated Olympic diving from 1920-1948. No other nation even reached the podium in the women’s 3-meter event during the span as the American women swept the event in six straight games. ** The Olympic Games were not held in 1940 or 1944 due to World War II.
McCormick is the only American woman with four Olympic gold medals, having won springboard and platform events at the 1952 and 1956 Olympic Games. The only other American diver to match her double-double victories is Greg Louganis. Over 30 years after winning her first golds, McCormick’s daughter Kelly carried on the Olympic tradition with a silver on 3-meter at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games and bronze on 3-meter at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games.
Protect this house
American women have a tremendous track record at Olympic Games on U.S. soil. The Los Angeles 1932 Olympic Games saw podium sweeps in both platform and springboard events. Fifty-two years later in the City of Angels, U.S. women collected two silvers (Kelly McCormick on springboard, Michele Mitchell on platform) and two bronze medals (Chris Seufert on springboard, Wendy Wyland on platform). When the Games returned to Atlanta in 1996, Mary Ellen Clark attained the only medal for U.S. women, a bronze on platform, but did so in remarkable fashion as the oldest athlete in the entire competition at age 33.