Black History Month: Historic Swimming Firsts in Black History


by BRUCE WIGO

09 February 2022, 07:37pm

Black History Month: Historic Swimming Firsts in Black History

By Bruce Wigo

In recognition of Black History Month, Swimming World takes a look at some historic accomplishments in swimming turned in by athletes of African descent.

Who was the first swimmer of African descent to win the Navy Medal for heroism?

Charles Jackson French, 23, a “Negro mess attendant” from Foreman, Ark., was commended by Admiral William Halsey Jr. and awarded the Navy Medal in 1943 for swimming six to eight hours in shark-infested waters, towing a raft filled with 15 wounded (white) sailors to safety, after their ship was sunk by the Japanese off the Solomon Islands. The raft was drifting toward Japanese-occupied territory, and if it had washed ashore, the sailors would have either been taken as prisoners of war or killed. The raft was eventually rescued at sea by an American craft. “His conduct was in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval service,” said Halsey.

Who was the first swimmer of African descent to win a national collegiate championship?

Chicago State’s Fred Evans of Washington, D.C. won the 100-yard breaststroke at the 1975 NAIA National Swimming Championships.

Who was the first swimmer of African descent to win an Olympic medal?

enith-brigitha-bio-photo

Holland’s Enith Brigitha placed third at the 1976 Montreal Olympics in the 100-meter free (56.65) behind the German Democratic Republic’s Kornelia Ender (55.65 WR) and Petra Priemer (56.49). We now know that both East Germans were doped.

Who was the first swimmer of African descent to make a U.S. national team?

UCLA’s Chris Silva of Los Angeles was a member of the World University Games in Edmonton, Canada, in 1982. The charismatic Silva was elected team captain. He also was an employee of ISHOF in charge of one of the nation’s first aquatic diversity programs at the time of his tragic death in an auto accident in Fort Lauderdale in 1991.

Who was the first swimmer of African descent to win an Olympic gold medal and an NCAA Division I title?

Suriname’s Anthony Nesty beat the USA’s Matt Biondi in the 100-meter butterfly at the 1988 Seoul Olympics by 1-hundredth of a second. Two years later as a sophomore swimming for the University of Florida, Nesty won the 100 and 200 yard fly at NCAAs. The 16-time Gator All-American also won the 100 fly and 4×100 medley relay in 1991, then the 100 fly in 1992. Nesty is now the head coach for his alma mater.

Who was the first African American swimmer to set an American record?

Atlanta’s Sabir Muhammad of Stanford University set a short course meters American record in the 100 butterfly in 1997.

Who was the first swimmer of African descent to make a U.S. Olympic swimming team?

anthony-ervin-

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Anthony Ervin of Cal and the Phoenix Swim Club made the U.S. Olympic team in 2000. He was also the first to medal, tying Gary Hall Jr. for the gold in the 50 free and earning a silver medal in the 4×100 freestyle relay at the Sydney Games.

Who was the first female swimmer of African descent to win an NCAA Division I title?

University of Georgia’s Maritza Correia of Tampa, Fla. won both the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard freestyle at the 2002 women’s NCAAs.

Who was the first female swimmer of African descent to set an American record and make a U.S. Olympic swimming team?

Again…Maritza Correia. At the 2002 NCAA Championships, Correia broke two American and NCAA records. In the 50, she bettered the record held by four-time Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken, and in the 100, she broke the record held by Jenny Thompson, the most decorated American swimmer in Olympic history. In 2004, she became the first female swimmer of African descent to win an Olympic medal: silver in the 4×100 free relay.

Who was the first swimmer of African descent to hold a world record and win an Olympic gold medal?

That distinction goes to Cullen Jones of Newark, N.J., and North Carolina State. Jones was a member of the U.S. team that set a world record in the 4×100 meter freestyle relay in 2006…and in 2008, he was a member of the gold medal-winning 4×100 freestyle relay in Beijing.

Who is the first woman of African descent to win an individual Olympic gold medal?

Stanford’s Simone Manuel tied for the gold medal with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak in the 100-meter freestyle at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Her winning time also set an Olympic record and an American record.

Who is the only female swimmer of African descent to hold a current world record in swimming in an individual event?

Jamaica’s Alia Atkinson currently holds two short course meters world records in breaststroke: the 50 and 100 (28.56, 1:02.36).

Who was the first Africa-American swimmer to swim across the English Channel?

Charles Chapman of Buffalo, N.Y., was the first African American swimmer to cross the Channel in 1981. The first person to swim the Channel was English sailor, Mathew Webb, in 1875.

Who was the first female swimmer of African descent to score in an NCAA final?

In 1988, Boston University’s Sybil Smith finaled in the 100-yard backstroke. Sybil’s daughter, Sloane Stevens, is a famous tennis player.

Who was the first swimmer of African descent to score in an NCAA championship final?

Ohio State sophomore Nate Clark from Pittsburgh finished fifth in the 200-yard butterfly at the 1962 NCAA Championships.

Who was the only All-American swimmer to win the Olympic decathlon?

Milton Gray Campbell, an African American, was a high school All-America swimmer as a sophomore in 1951 for Plainfield High School in New Jersey. He dropped swimming to focus on track, and won the silver medal in the Olympic decathlon in 1952 and the gold medal in the same event at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games.

Who was the first female swimmer of African descent to make a U.S. National Team?

San Diego’s Alison Terry qualified for the U.S. national team that competed in the 1999 Pan American Games.

Bruce Wigo, historian and senior consultant at the International Swimming Hall of Fame, served as president/CEO of ISHOF from 2005-17.

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