Unfortunately, the summer of 2020 has been marred by the fact that the Tokyo Olympics had to be postponed until 2021. However, today’s Google Doodle, which honors the Filipino American Olympic champion Vicki Draves, offers us the chance to bask in the kind of transcendent athletic glory that’s beloved by sports fans all around the world. Draves, who was born in San Francisco in 1924, was a multifaceted and enormously talented diver who made history two times over. Not only was she the first woman to win a gold medal in both the platform and springboard diving events, which she accomplished at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London; she was the first Asian American woman to win an Olympic medal.
Draves earned her medals despite setbacks that might have completely deterred a less determined person. She didn’t learn to swim until she was 9 or 10 because of fear of the water, and in the wake of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, racism and discrimination against Asian Americans was rampant and contributed directly to the adverse treatment Draves faced. She wasn’t permitted to swim in many elite pools in the San Francisco area, and many of the public pools in which she was permitted to train were then drained after she finished using them. Daves, who was born Victoria Manalo, originally changed her last name to Taylor to be allowed into a swimming school. (She married Lyle Draves in 1946.)
After her historic Olympics, Draves, who died in 2010, then went on to tour with other star celebrity swimmers of the day including Buster Crabbe, Johnny Weissmuller and Esther Williams. But it’s clear from consulting video footage of the dives Draves made that her grace, fortitude and poise in the air set her apart from other competitors of the same era. Sure, she wasn’t performing the flips and stunts that are expected from 21st century Olympians, but her perfect execution of simple swan dives were more than enough to earn her a place in history.