Victoria Manalo Draves Is First Asian-American U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist

Screenshot from the International Olympic Committee via  the Seattle Globalist

Screenshot from the International Olympic Committee via the Seattle Globalist

Earlier this month, memorial stories started running which honored the passing of the purported first Asian American Olympic gold medalist. Sammy Lee of California was revered for his feats in diving.

Articles reflected on Lee’s admirable determination during the 1948 London games to challenge the discriminatory sports world as a Korean American. He won his first gold medal in Aug. 5, 1948, and a bronze at the same Olympics. He won another gold at the 1952 games in Helsinki.

Unfortunately, declarations of his groundbreaking feat for Asian Americans became a matter — once again — of a man getting credit for something a woman did.

The first Asian American U.S. Olympic gold medalist was a Filipina American woman. Her name was Victoria Manalo Draves. Manalo Draves (Draves was her married name) was the first woman diver to win two golds in the same Olympics, and she won her first gold medal in springboard diving on Aug. 3, 1948 — two days before Lee won his first gold medal in platform diving.

“Obviously it’s just wrong”, said Shannon Urabe, the visitor services assistant manager at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, located in Seattle. “We shouldn’t assume it’s men who achieve in sports first. It’s especially hard to find female Asian American heroes.”  

Vicki Manalo Draves, who died in 2010, went through the same trials of racial segregation as Lee did, with the additional difficulty of facing bias against women. At one point, Manalo Draves was forced to use her British mother’s maiden name to gain access to swimming facilities that barred people of color.

The lack of celebration and recognition of women in the sports world is sadly commonplace. Many media outlets accepted that a man was first in an achievement and this misinformation spread.  

News story from The Seattle Globalist