The Triumph of Victoria Manalo Draves

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If Victoria “Vicki” Manalo Draves had represented the Philippines when she won two gold medals in springboard and platform diving in the 1948 London Summer Olympics, there would have been monuments erected all over the Philippines to celebrate her inspiring victory and to mark the end of the nation’s long gold medal drought in the Olympics.

But because the San Francisco-born daughter of Teofilo Manalo proudly represented the United States in the 1948 Olympics, her name is virtually unknown in the Philippines.

While she is not unknown in the US, when Vicki Manalo Draves died from heart and cancer complications in her home in Palm Springs, California on April 11, 2010, news of her death did not appear in the local newspaper until almost two weeks later (“Olympic Diver Victoria Draves Dies” The Desert Sun, April 23, 2010).

News of her death still has not appeared in any of the San Francisco newspapers even though she was born and raised in the City which belatedly honored her in 2005 by naming its newest park after her. In that same year, she was honored as the Most Outstanding Alumnus of City College of San Francisco.

When Vicki received her award and spoke at the Commencement Ceremonies of City College at the Masonic Auditorium on May 27, 2005 before 2000 graduating students, she received a resounding ovation.

It was a recognition that was much-deserved and long overdue for the first woman in Olympic history to win gold medals in both springboard and platform diving events in the same games and the first swimmer or diver to win two individual gold medals in the Olympics. Vicki was also the first Asian and the first Filipino to do so.

In 2005 when Vicki visited the two acre park that would be named after her, she recalled attending the school that used to be at the site. It was called the Franklin Elementary School and her principal at the time was Bessie Carmichael. Franklin Elementary School would later be renamed Bessie Carmichael Elementary School and would remain at the same site until it was moved in 2004 to an adjacent location.

Bessie Carmichael School has the largest number of Filipino students in San Francisco with its own Filipino principal, Jeff Burgos, and a Filipino Bilingual and Bicultural Program in place. The park and the school are located just four blocks from where Vicki was born and raised.

Victoria Taylor Manalo was born on December 31, 1924 in the South of Market (SOMA) to a Filipino father, Teofilo Manalo who was a musician and a chef, and an English mother, GertrudeTaylor, who came to San Francisco to visit a sister who had married a Filipino. Soon after her arrival in 1923, she met Teofilo and married him a year later. When Vicki was born, her parents must have had a premonition of her Olympic future because she was already a Manalo (Tagalog for win), and she was still named Victoria. Win Win.

Vicki’s parents were able to marry in San Francisco even though there was a California law enacted in 1850 prohibiting “all marriages of white persons with negroes or mulattos” and its 1880 amendment including “Mongolians” because Courts held that the law did not apply to Filipinos who were “Malays” (Roldan vs. Los Angeles County). In 1932, however, the California Legislature amended the law to include “members of the Malay race”.

Vicki recalled the difficulty her parents faced. “Intermarriage was frowned upon in those day,” Vicki disclosed as she related the account of what happened to her aunt who was married to a Filipino. Her aunt was repeatedly advised by fellow workers and supervisors at the St. Francis Hotel where she worked that she should divorce her husband. After she refused to do so, her body was found at the bottom of the hotel’s elevator shaft. It was an “accident”, the police said, but Vicki believed otherwise.

After her aunt’s death, Vicki grew up without relatives, just her parents, a twin sister, Connie, an older sister, Frankie, and a younger brother, Sonny, who died as a child. “I wanted to be a ballet dancer,” Vicki recalled. “But we were just a very poor family, and there was no opportunity to extend on those desires.”

“I didn’t learn to swim until I was 9 or 10,” Vicki said. “I was really kind of afraid of the water. We learned to swim going to what they called the nickel baths in the Mission District. You paid five cents admission and we would go there each summer. We would go there first thing in the morning, and then the Red Cross gave some lessons, and we would participate in that. I tried some dives off the diving board and off the side. I did not start diving until I was 16.”

About a year later, a friend who was impressed with her diving skills introduced her to Phil Patterson, swimming coach of the Fairmont Hotel Swimming and Diving Club. After they met, Patterson told her bluntly that because she was Filipino, he could not accept her as a member of his Club. But if she changed her last name to her mother’s surname “Taylor”, perhaps he could bring her in as a member of his Patterson School.

Vicki asked her parents’ permission to change her name to Vicki Taylor and her mother agreed. “I don’t know how my dad felt,” she said, “because he never said anything.”

After “Vicki Taylor” started diving regularly at the Fairmont, she was interviewed by a local paper: “I remember the first time I was interviewed for anything, they asked my name and I replied, “Victoria Manalo.” I received a chewing out from Phil Patterson,” she said.

How did Patterson teach Vicki how to dive? “One evening, he told me to follow another diver. That is really how I learned to dive.”

Vicki relentlessly practiced her diving after school hours when she was still a student at Commerce High School on Van Ness Avenue and continued to do so when she enrolled at San Francisco Junior College now City College of San Francisco.

When the war broke out in 1941, Patterson went into military service and the Fairmont Hotel swimming pool closed down, forcing Vicki to stop swimming for a year. In that time, she found a job working at the Presidio. Later, after Vicki learned about a swimming program at the Crystal Plunge with Charlie Sava as the coach, she talked to Charlie about coaching her and he agreed and assigned Jimmy Hughes to be her coach.

Hughes coached Vicki to her first national AAU diving competition at the Indiana national meet in 1943 when she was 19. Vicki came in third behind Helen Rose and Zoe Ann Olsen on the 3-meter board.

The next national AAU diving competition was held in 1944 at the Athens Athletic Club in Oakland where Zoe Ann Olsen trained with her coach, Lyle Draves. “That is where I first saw Lyle,” she recalls. Because her coach, Jimmy Hughes, could not advance her to the next level, she asked Lyle Draves to be her coach and he agreed.

Under Lyle’s guidance, Vicki learned platform diving to add to her springboard diving repertoire. She was now ready to compete in a diving competition that was to be held at the Fairmont Hotel Swimming and Diving Club where she used to practice her diving years before when she was “Vicki Taylor”. But as Vicki Manalo, she was barred from entering the competition.

In disgust at the Fairmont’s racism, Lyle Draves left the San Francisco Bay Area for Los Angeles. Vicki followed him and married him there on July 12, 1946. Under Lyle’s tutelage in Los Angeles, Vicki went on to win the1946, 1947, and 1948 US National Diving Championships in platform diving and in springboard diving.

In the 1948 Olympics in London, Victoria Manalo Draves made history by winning gold medals in both the platform and springboard diving events. Lyle’s other student, Zoe Ann Olsen, placed second in springboard diving.

After her Olympic victory, Vicki visited the Philippines for the first time and brought Lyle with her. She gave platform diving exhibitions at the Rizal Stadium and in other Philippine venues.

In 1949, she appeared in a LIFE magazine layout that drew a wide fan base. Through the late 1940s and 1950s, Vicki toured around the world in water performance shows with celebrities such as Buster “Flash Gordon” Crabbe and Larry Crosby.

After performing regularly at the El Mirador Hotel in Palm Springs and at the Shadow Mountain Resort & Club in Palm Desert, Vicky retired from diving to have children. Starting in the early 1950s, Vicky and Lyle would raise four sons — David, Jeffery, Dale and Kim — all skilled divers.

“My mom always smiled. She always brightened your day. That was my mom even raising four boys, and we were a handful,” David Draves told the Desert Sun.

Victoria Manalo Draves was inducted in to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on December 22, 1969.

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