Victoria Manalo Draves

Persevering against all odds

Victoria Manalo Draves, an Filipino-American diver who overcame ethnic prejudice early in her career to become the first woman to win springboard and platform gold medals in the same Olympics, in 1948, died on April 11 in Palm Springs, Calif. She was 85.

Vicki Manalo was the daughter of a Filipino father and an English mother, in a society in which mixed marriages were generally frowned on. When she was 17, she sought to join the Fairmont Hotel Swimming and Diving Club in San Francisco. As she told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2005, the club’s coach, Phil Patterson, told her that because of her Filipino name she could not join the club. Instead, she said, he “formed a ‘special’ club just for me — the Patterson School of Swimming and Diving.”

“I think he was a prejudiced man,” she added.

“It wasn’t special for me. It was his way of separating me from the others.”

He also told her that she could not compete unless she changed her name to Taylor, her mother’s maiden name, she said. She and her mother reluctantly agreed.

“I don’t know how my dad felt,”

Draves said in an oral history in 1991,

“because he never said anything.”

In 1948, by then married to her new coach, Lyle Draves, she made history in the Olympic Games in London. In her first competition there, on the 3-meter springboard, Draves trailed Zoe Ann Olsen, a teammate from home, going into her last dive, a back one-and-a-half somersault. As Draves told Dr. Margaret Costa in the oral history interview,

“I was so nervous that I would shake before each dive.”

Draves, at 5 feet 1, won that gold medal, then another off the 10-meter platform, her stronger event. She and Sammy Lee, the men’s platform winner and a Korean-American, became the first divers of Asian descent to win Olympic gold medals.