Celebrating Vicki Draves – Today’s Doodle celebrates Filipino American diver and coach Victoria “Vicki” Draves, the first Asian American woman to win an Olympic medal. On this day in 1948, Draves won the gold medal in the women’s 3-meter springboard event at the London Summer Olympics.
Victoria Draves was born Victoria Taylor Manalo in the South of Market district of San Francisco on December 31st, 1924. Growing up, she and her family often hopped on the trolley to the enormous Fleishhacker Pool to swim and watch the divers. When she was a teenager, a member of a local swim team asked if she wanted to learn to dive, and she eagerly accepted, springboarding her into the sport she went on to champion.
After thousands of dives to perfect her form and three consecutive U.S. National Diving Championship platform titles, Draves earned a spot at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. She dominated the games one faithful leap at a time and made history as the first woman to take home the gold in both the platform and springboard events.
Thank you, Vicki Draves, for inspiring people everywhere to aim high and take the plunge!
Special thanks to the family of Vicki Draves for their partnership on this project. Below, the Draves family shares their thoughts on Vicki’s legacy.
(All above) Pictured: Vicki Draves
Photo credit: The Draves Family
In Asian cultures, it is considered quite lucky to be born a twin. In Tagalog, “Manalo” means “win.” In San Francisco, in the 1940s, a petite, determined athlete, a twin, felt destined for greatness and set her sights on the London Olympic Games. Victoria Manalo stood 5’1” tall and boasted a mane of dark hair.
“I wanted to be a ballet dancer,” Vicki recounted, “but we were a very poor family, and dancing was too expensive.” She didn’t learn to swim until she was 9 or 10. “I was really kind of afraid of the ware,” she confessed.
Vicki went on to become a record-breaking Olympic diver, but her story includes overcoming unimaginable challenges. Since the Pearl Harbor attacks, discrimination against Asians was fierce. She wasn’t allowed in the swanky pools and clubs around the San Francisco Bay Area. It didn’t matter that Vicki was half Filipino (not Japanese) and a contender for the Olympic Team. If she were allowed to practice in public pools, they would often drain the pool after she finished training.
She was also told that in order for her to compete, she would have to use her maiden name, Taylor. One of Vicki’s training buddies and fellow Asian American Olympic contender, Sammy Lee, encouraged her to stand firm and “not break her father’s heart” (by renouncing his name).
In the end, Sammy introduced Vicki to Lyle Draves, and “Coach” Draves was smitten. “She had ‘gold’ written all over her,” Draves declared. Lyle and Vicki ended up marrying before the 1948 Games.
Despite all the odds against her, Vicki Manalo Draves proudly stood for America as she accepted a record two gold medals in London. She won the 3-meter springboard event and the 10-meter platform event.
Sammy also won gold that year. As a result, both Vicki and Sammy become the first Asian Americans to win Olympic gold.
After the Olympics, Vicki turned professional and toured with Lyle, Buster Crabbe, Johnny Weissmuller, and Esther Williams. She also became a mother. Four sons later, she and Lyle remained aligned with competitive diving for decades.
Vicki was inducted to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1969. In San Francisco in 2005, then Mayor Gavin Newsom dedicated the site of Vicki’s, and her twin sister Connie’s, elementary school as the Victoria Manalo Draves Park.
Vicki passed in 2010 and was survived by Lyle, sister Connie and her four sons, David, Jeff, Dale, and Kim.
Below, Vicki’s children share some thoughts and reflections about their mother:
Growing up with a mother who was an Olympian came with notoriety, but she was always first-and-foremost, my mom. So that part was pretty ordinary. And as a mom, she had her work cut out for her… I was a handful by myself, and then came my three brothers.
But competitive diving was always part of our world… after all, our father was a diving coach. Although both our parents were respected in the sport of diving and we all were—from a young age—competitive divers, there really wasn’t any pressure to compete.
But if we wanted to, both dad and mom made it a point that no favoritism or special treatment was extended. In fact, often the coach-dad was more critical of his sons than he ever was of his students. It was never spoken and kind of funny, but my brothers and I all seemed to understand why.With all the success and fame my parents received for their amazing achievements and contributions to the sport of diving, the one thing they both showed my brothers and I was humility. To win was one thing, but to be gracious and humble were the attributes of a true “Champion.”
The two of them were so intertwined in her Olympic accomplishments, and it is very difficult to only talk about my mom. We grew up modestly, but I never felt it. Both my parents were very proud and tremendously grateful they had the opportunity to succeed in an industry and sport they loved so very much.
Like my brothers, I also value the important virtues my mother instilled in our lives. She was a famed Olympic medalist, so there was plenty of opportunity to teach us about arrogance and conceit. But instead, through how she lived her life, she taught us the importance of humility and humbleness. Similarly, her influence showed me that nothing was more important than family.
After the 1948 games, she took her well-deserved victory lap of fame but almost as fast, she set her new focus upon building and raising a family. I can never recall any instance of her pushing me or my brothers to be the greatest divers in the world, but she would ask—with focused interest—how our school was going, how we were developing friendships and in what ways we could support one another in our family. That was a singular focus of hers, raising a family, and she approached that goal with all the discipline and focus she once gave to the art of diving.
Family is key to love and happiness, and I will forever appreciate her for teaching me that critical life lesson.
I did not know how lucky I was until I heard my older brother’s stories and the stories of their friends.
The diving world became a huge part of my life and helped me grow. The sport helped me learn to be professional and respectful. Because of my mom’s accomplishments and my dad’s influence, they gave me the chance to know myself and to better myself. I so appreciate what I had and how great it was to be raised by the Olympian Victoria Manalo Draves.
Growing up with the admiration and respect my parents received from the diving and swimming world showed my brothers and me how lucky we were to have parents that raised all of us to believe your word is the most valuable thing you have.
Being the youngest, I felt that I was lucky to have brothers who also followed that same upbringing. I am proud to say I am a Draves.
Being raised under the wing of an Olympian forever makes me feel proud and it is an honor that has never lost its luster. That said, growing up with an Olympian was, and always will be, growing up with “Mom.”
Debra (David’s wife):
There was something about Vicki’s smile, but it wasn’t just her smile… it was if she knew something. Some secret. Or that she already knew the ending to the story. But it was even more than that… Vicki absolutely radiated. I didn’t truly understand what it was about her that was so magnetic and fun to be around until after she passed.
I knew she read her Bible every day, but that seemed to be a private part of her. Today, I suspect all I would have had to do is ask. But I missed the opportunity. I was uncomfortable. I missed out. I regret now that I didn’t ask her those more personal questions about her faith and her relationship with God. Today, I have a feeling that she would have told me that it was God smiling on her and God telling her that secret.
It makes me happy (and sad) that she is even that much closer to Him now.
You can find more about Celebrating Vicki Draves on the official Google Doodle Page