Victoria Manalo Draves, the first woman to win two gold medals in diving in the same Olympics — in the three-meter springboard and the 10-meter platform competitions in London in 1948 — and the first Asian American to win an Olympic medal, has died. She was 85.
Draves died April 11 from complications of pancreatic cancer at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, said her husband and former coach, Lyle Draves.
A native of San Francisco whose father was Filipino and whose mother was English, Draves was the national platform diving champion for three years running and the reigning national indoor springboard champion when she arrived at the Olympics in 1948.
The petite and attractive gold medalist with the infectious smile left the Games a household name.
“She was such a beautiful, graceful diver,” said Dr. Sammy Lee, a 1948 and 1952 gold medalist in the men’s 10-meter platform.
“She worked very hard on both the springboard and on the platform,” he said. “I’d say her workouts were harder than the average top woman diver in those days.”
Life magazine named Draves and decathlon gold medal winner Bob Mathias the top two U.S. athletes at the 1948 Games.
“She had a winning spirit, she had the skills, she had the consistency and she was one heck of a competitor,” said Pat McCormick, the first person in Olympic history to win four gold medals back to back in diving, in 1952 and 1956.
McCormick said she was about 14 when she met Draves at the Los Angeles Athletic Club in the mid-1940s, “and she became my role model, my idol, my friend.”
After the Olympics, Draves fielded movie offers from Hollywood and the Philippines.
” MGM and 20th Century Fox had their eyes on her,” Lyle Draves said. “They wanted to make a south-sea island girl out of her — to wear a sarong and all this stuff — but she didn’t want any part of it.”
Draves turned professional after the Olympics, joining Larry Crosby’s “Rhapsody in Swimtime” aquatic show at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1948. She went on to appear in other shows and toured the U.S. and Europe with Buster Crabbe’s “Aqua Parade.”
After starting a family in the early 1950s, Draves and her husband operated a swimming and diving training program at Indian Springs in Montrose and later moved the program to Encino. She later worked as a secretary.
In 1969, she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Draves, who was born Dec. 31, 1924, did not begin diving until she was 16. She began training under Phil Patterson, who ran the Fairmont Hotel Swimming and Diving Club.
But instead of including her in the club with everyone else, he “formed a ‘special’ club just for me — the Patterson School of Swimming and Diving,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2005. “I think he was a prejudiced man. It wasn’t special for me. It was his way of separating me from the others.”
Patterson also insisted she use her mother’s maiden name, Taylor, when competing, she said. She did but had begun using her Filipino name and was diving for another club by the time she won her first national championship at 19.
She began training under Lyle Draves, the coach at the Athens Athletic Club in Oakland, in 1944.
He recalled that he had seen the young diver in competition a couple of years earlier “and thought to myself, ‘Oh, boy, there’s a champion.’ ”
It wasn’t until he became her coach, Vicki Draves told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2002, “that I really started improving.”
The couple were married in 1946.
In addition to her husband, Draves is survived by their sons, David, Jeffrey, Dale and Kim; eight grandchildren; and her twin sister, Consuelo Sessions.