“Sport allows us to engage in dialogue and to build bridges, and it may even have the capacity to reshape international relations. The Olympic Games embody perfectly this universal mission.” Richard Attias
By Alex P. Vidal
NEW YORK CITY — When I met former US Olympic coach Lyle Draves in California in 2011, I didn’t know he was the husband of the first woman in history to win the Platform and Springboard gold medals in the 1948 London Olympics.
To my big surprise, Victoria “Vicki” Manalo-Draves, who died in 2010 at the age of 85, was half-Filipina and half-British.
If she represented the Philippines, we could have won our first gold medal after the World War II.
The highest that we have achieved, so far, were two silver medals courtesy of boxers Anthony Villanueva (1964 Tokyo Olympics) and Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco, Jr. (1996 Atlanta Olympics) and six bronze medals.
When Vicki was invited by President Elpidio Quirino in Malacañang in July 1949, she was feted like a Filipina Olympic champion, Lyle recalled.
It was the then 96-year-old Lyle himself who narrated the great exploits of his wife in an exclusive interview inside his unit in a retirement village in the City of Laguna Woods.
“My late wife was half-Filipina,” Lyle volunteered.
He accompanied Vicki in the Malacañang visit and they were given a red carpet welcome.
“We hardly had any sleep then,” mused Lyle, the first pure diving coach in history who produced three Olympic gold medalists: Vicki Manalo-Draves (1948 London Olympics), Pat McCormick (1952 Helsinki Olympics and 1956 Melbourne Olympics), and Sue Gossick (1968 Mexico Olympics).
“We were herded from one party to another like real celebrities and almost everybody recognized us, especially Vicki. Man, I can’t forget that moment.”
Husband and wife visited the Philippines a year after Vicki Manalo-Draves made history: she became the first woman in history to win the Platform and Springboard gold medals in the 1948 London Olympics.
“I was her coach and Vicki narrowly beat (fellow American) Zoe Ann Olsen for the gold in her last Springboard dive,” recalled Lyle, who was permanently enshrined in the International Swimming Hall of Fame at the Fort Lauderdale, Florida on May 12, 1989. “I replaced the regular coach, Fred Cady, who got sick and could not make it to the Olympics that year.”
Lyle said Vicki had been elected in the same highest sports pedestal in 1969.
On October 27, 2006, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom signed a proclamation naming a two-acre park as Victoria Manalo Draves Park in her honor on Folsom and Sherman streets in San Francisco where she was born.
Vicki’s father was a Filipino musician from Orani, Bataan who migrated to San Francisco, California. Her mother was British Gertrude Taylor, also a migrant in the same state.
Lyle and Vicki have four sons – David, Jeffrey, Dale and Kim – all divers. They have eight grandchildren.
Prior to competing in the 1948 Olympics, Draves won five United States diving championships.
Draves turned professional after the Olympics, joining Larry Crosby’s “Rhapsody in Swimtime” aquatic show at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1948.
When Vicki died on April 11, 2010 from complications of pancreatic cancer at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, California, Lyle relocated to a plush retirement village at the Rushmore Towers in Laguna Woods, California where he has been living alone.
“I missed Vicki so much. But every night I talked to her,” sighed Lyle, who was partly deaf.
Lyle coached female divers to 12 Olympic medals and 35 National Championships. His Olympic silver medalists include Paula Jean Myers and Zoe Ann Olsen, each of whom took a bronze. His divers’ Olympic medal count reads 7 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze.
Lyle has been described as America’s first great diving coach beginning an era when diving coaches could specialize in divers and not coach swimmers too, or vice versa.
He was a Hollywood film editor and his showbiz background has helped his coaching or again, vice versa, since Lyle was diving in and then producing, top-rated diving water shows before he became a film editor.
An Iowa farm boy, Lyle met Fred Cady at a swimming meet in Iowa. Fred invited him to California where Lyle began coaching divers at the Lido Club at the famed Ambassador Hotel and at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.
One of his first pupils was a 12-year-old girl named Zoe Ann Olsen. Next, they both moved to the Athens Athletic Club in Oakland where he met Vicki Manalo. He later married Vicki, who was given away by 1948 and 1952 platform winner Sammy Lee.
After the Olympics, Vicki and Lyle toured the United States and Europe with Buster Crabbe and Dick Smith.
He described the tours as “our great opportunity to travel as husband and wife since we have been traveling a lot together as coach and diver.”
Lyle returned to his coaching, first at tennis champion Jack Kramer’s Athletic Club and then at UCLA.
The Draves boys are Acapulco and World Champion high divers who have followed the showbiz side of their father’s heritage doing high and trick dives in such places as Magic Mountain, Sea World and Marineland.
Lyle described Fred Cady as “the most brilliant man” he ever met.
“He was the team coach during the 1936 (Berlin) Olympics and he was truly a great diving coach,” Lyle said.
The secret to success in coaching diving, Lyle emphasized, is “to follow Sir Isaac Newton and his third law of motion.”
He said, “Divers should know how to utilize the muscles inside their bodies by following the third law of motion.”