1st African American woman to win an Olympic medal relects on the historic 1-2-3 Minority Finish at Women’s NCAAs

by SwimSwam 77

March 23rd, 2015 College, Opinion

Olympic medalist Maritza Correia McClendon

Olympic medalist Maritza (Correia) McClendon

Courtesy of Maritza McClendon (aka Maritza Correia).

In 2002, Maritza became the first African American to break an American record in swimming.

In 2004, Maritza became the first African American to earn a place on the U.S. Olympic Swim Team, where she won a silver medal on the 4×100 freestyle relay.

Am I dreaming? Nope and this is why.

I woke up bright and early Sunday morning, (Yes I still wake up at the crack of dawn because I spent 20 years of life waking up for 5am practice) the house was quiet as my husband and the kids were fast asleep. I made my coffee, picked up my iPad, sat down on the couch and started the Thursday episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Then I proceeded to check the results of the 2015 Women’s D1 NCAA championships. Event by event I checked the times thinking man these girls were fast. I skipped over the women’s 100 free because I knew Simone was going to break another American record and wanted to save the best for last. After each event, I thought these girls just keep getting faster and faster. Then I get to the women’s 400 free relay and see that Simone anchored in an astonishing :45.79.

Instant flashback moment: I remember at 2002 NCAA championships when I anchored in a :46.7, and people thought “A woman under :47 seconds? That’s smoking!” I remember that NCAA’s quite well. It was at the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Pool, home to the Texas Longhorns. The UGA parents were in the stands with our school headshots blown up, rather largely, and stuck onto a giant popsicle stick. Jack Bauerle did his usual pacing of the pool deck, excessively chewing his gum, and from time to time looking at his stop watch, that wasn’t even clocking anyone. While we didn’t win an NCAA title, that was an NCAA’s I will never forget. Oh wait, I remember all my NCAA’s quite vividly. That’s just how impactful college swimming is. Those were the best years of my life.

Back to reality- I thought, wow, if she went that fast on the relay, I can only imagine what she did in the individual race. And boy was I right. Simone won the 100 free in :46.09…. :46.09! Now that- is smoking! Then I continued to read and saw Lia Neal was 2nd with a :47.13. Instantly thought it was super cool to see two black girls top two. I then noticed it was a tight race for 2nd and 3rd, with the 3rd place finisher clocking in at :47.19. I scrolled over to see it was Natalie Hinds. I had to refresh my page and make sure I was reading it correctly. Three black women just swept the 2015 Women’s D1 NCAA Championship.

My jaw dropped and a tear instantly came to my eyes, I couldn’t believe it. I have to admit I went from being amazed and proud of their accomplishments to a bit sad I wasn’t able to see this moment live. This is a true moment in history for minorities. I still can’t believe we had three women of color take 1,2, 3 in the 100 free at Division 1 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships.

Image is courtesy of Trevor Freeland, UVA alum, NCAA DI Swimmer from the 1980s, among the first African American All-Americans in swimming.

Image is courtesy of Trevor Freeland, UVA alum, NCAA DI Swimmer from the 1980s, among the first African American All-Americans in swimming.

13 years ago I stood on the podium in Austin, TX breaking American records, winning NCAA individual titles and winning relay titles while representing the University of Georgia. The icing on the cake was making history as the first African American to break an individual American Record in swimming in both the 50 free (21.69) and the 100 free (:47.10). Two years later I became the 1st African American woman to make the US Olympic team and medal. I will always remember my first interview at Olympic trials when asked how I felt about being a role model for minorities. My answer, “I’m honored to be the first, but I don’t want to be the last.” What these three ladies have done, is not only made leaps in their personal careers, but have continued on the path that was set many years ago and taken it to unthinkable heights.

It’s truly a proud moment to be able to see the changes in how many minorities are reaching high levels in swimming. Since winning my Olympic silver medal in 2004, I always kept an eye out for who was “new” to the pool deck. From watching Byron Davis, Sabir Muhammad, Michael Norment, Atiba Wade, Neka Mabry, and Allison Terry. To being on the same teams with Tanica Jameson, Kelley Robins, Cullen Jones, and Brielle White. To now watching Dax Hill, Giles Smith, Arianna Vanderpool Wallace, Alia Atkinson, Simone Manuel, Lia Neal, and Natalie Hinds continuing to break barriers and bringing light to the fact that Black people can swim… and we do it well.

I spent many years giving back to the community, striving to reach out to our youth, sharing my inspirational life story, only wishing for this moment. I can only sit back with a huge grin on my face and say, “Wow, look at us now.”

Simone Manuel

_Manuel_ Simone, FR, Manuel, Stanford_TBX_0431

Lia Neal

US Open Day 5 - Mike Lewis-6 - Lia Neal

Natalie Hinds

_Hinds_Natalie Florida Hinds Natalie Hinds-DO8T6378-

zHV8Q4mLMany thanks to Maritza McClendon for sharing her thoughts.

Twitter: @ritzyswims04

IG: ritzyswims

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rjcid
6 years ago

Love it.

SwimEagle
6 years ago

Great article and great news!! I wasn’t able to find a podium shot of Manuel, Neal, and Hinds together, which is a shame. Each of these girls are inspiring for anyone, but the sight of the three of them together must be a huge inspiration to budding minority swimmers!

6 years ago

Thanks so much Maritza for giving back to the sport and for showing young African-American everywhere that swimming isn’t a sport of color but of dedication and commitment. Thanks for paving the way and I, for one, am overjoyed to see these three women thrive. Woo hoo! It was a great day for swimming!

6 years ago

Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Such a great message to everyone! Just fantastic.

Paulette
Reply to  dj albertson
6 years ago

Fantastic swimming!

Dr. Thurman W. Robins
6 years ago

Thanks Maritza for your thoughts and expressions concerning the 1,2,3,finish of three Black females in 100yd free @ recent NCAA meet. I followed your career as you were competing during the same time as my daughter Kelley Robins competed for Univ of Texas. You guys (gals) were truly trail blazers for young Black women in the sport of competitive swimming at elite levels. I am very moved and proud of Simone, Natalie, and Lia and hope they will inspire other minority kids to Perdue the sport. As a former swimmer and coach I have known that it was only a matter of time before this type of accomplishment was possible. All we have always needed was the desire and opportunity.… Read more »

Steve Gordon
Reply to  Dr. Thurman W. Robins
6 years ago

Thanks Doc. For sharing. As a black coach in this sport of swimming to is a great moment.

easyspeed
6 years ago

Sigh. Here we go again with the focus on the race of the swimmer. This embarrasses me every time. Are we ever going to get past this? Hello, it’s not 1955. Lets just focus on the amazing accomplishments of these young swimmers and not their race, religion, sexuality, etc.

Thomas tThe Train
Reply to  easyspeed
6 years ago

Easyspeed – Don’t be embarrassed. This is a great accomplishment! When great things happen in this sport, we celebrate them. Have you never in your life or in your children’s life celebrated something significant that took place? Whether it was your first place finish in the 50 free, or a come from behind win in a relay, or your kids first time riding a bike without training wheels. People celebrate things that have NEVER happened before.

NEVER in the history of U.S. college swimming has there ever been three non-white females on the podium receiving awards for individual events. Their speed and their skin color are both significant.

Especially when you consider only 1% of age group swimmers in USA… Read more »

bobthebuilderrocks
Reply to  Thomas tThe Train
6 years ago

This is off topic, but I like your name. 🙂

Thomas The Train
Reply to  bobthebuilderrocks
6 years ago

Thanks Bob The Builder!!!

Bobby G
Reply to  Thomas tThe Train
6 years ago

It’s not just African Americans who are underrepresented in the sport of swimming. Latinos are as well. Our team of 70 kids is more than 60% Latino and most are living at or below the poverty level. Thanks to grants, we are helping a few get into the sport, but swimming, like all youth sports, has an issue when it comes to the socioeconomic component.

GoPokes
Reply to  easyspeed
6 years ago

It means a lot to Maritza McClendon. I’m guessing it means a lot to Simone Manuel, Lia Neal, and Natalie Hinds. That it means nothing to you, and annoys you…well, not so important in the grand scheme of things, because I’m guessing you’ve never experienced a day of real discrimination in your life. Walk in the shoes my friend, walk in the shoes – and if you can’t (and I can’t), then have the grace to just remain quiet. When all in the world is equal (including opportunities and chances as well as profiling and discrimination) then we can get past race. It’s not so still today.

floppy
Reply to  GoPokes
6 years ago

I am grateful that others responded to that comment more graciously and eloquently than I was about to.

elephant in the room
Reply to  GoPokes
6 years ago

Well said…

SWIMMER
Reply to  easyspeed
6 years ago

Easyspeed, I think your comment is ridden with ignorance. Stating, “it’s not 1955” implies that we live in a society with complete equality. That’s not the case. Have you ever attempted to ponder how you’re identity would be changed if you were black man sitting on a bus late at night, regularly having people stare at you in fear? We would be denying ourselves of the struggles that people endure. In fact, what we are watching on TV RIGHT NOW in the USA epitomizes the struggle that black and minority communities are enduring.

I am writing all of this as a white person, who, through various interactions and travels with friends from different backgrounds and ethnicities, has recognized that… Read more »

Wut
Reply to  SWIMMER
6 years ago

Swimmer- Who says I would be afraid of a black man sitting on a bus late at night? You, the white person, are the only one who made that assumption, so you’re appearing the ignorant one now.

swimmer
Reply to  Wut
6 years ago

Actually, it comes from conversations I’ve had with my friends who have said that this is an issue they have to deal with in their lives, which is very humbling to hear. I understand it’s not everyone’s experience, but the fact that so many people still deal with this issue today, shows that this is a serious problem needing to be addressed in our society – and sport is not immune to it.

And besides, if you’re getting caught up in this example, you’re missing the whole point – which is to admit that these problems are so complex and require us to admit that they’re so much bigger than we often assume them to be.

My hat’s… Read more »

easyspeed
Reply to  SWIMMER
6 years ago

Hey, genius, did it ever occur to you that I might be black? Would that change your opinion? Of course, it would go against my original post to make an issue of my race. Hoping we can keep MLK’s dream alive and judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. But with some of these lost in the 60s attitudes by some swim authors and commentators, doesn’t look like that will happen any time soon… also- sorry to hear you are afraid of black people. Check yourself.

swimmer
Reply to  easyspeed
6 years ago

Easyspeed, I think your comment is ridden with ignorance. Stating, “it’s not 1955” implies that we live in a society with complete equality. That’s not the case. Have you ever attempted to ponder how you’re identity would be changed if you were black man sitting on a bus late at night, regularly having people stare at you in fear? We would be denying ourselves of the struggles that people endure. In fact, what we are watching on TV RIGHT NOW in the USA epitomizes the struggle that black and minority communities are enduring.
I am writing all of this as a white person, who, through various interactions and travels with friends from different backgrounds and ethnicities, has recognized that… Read more »

1955wasRecent
Reply to  easyspeed
6 years ago

I was born in the late 60’s, and swam competitively most of my life. Back in the 70’s and 80’s I *frequently* heard people say that black people couldn’t swim, or couldn’t swim fast. I remember being at a meet in the 80’s where I overheard someone say, “I’ve never seen a N$%*r swimmer”

And sometimes people still say it. The most recent time I heard something like that was a couple of years ago in a bar (I told the guy that he was wrong and told him about Cullen Jones).

For a more public example, this remark by Tramm Hudson from 2006:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tramm_Hudson#Controversial_racial_remarks

This is a big deal is because… Read more »

2015
Reply to  1955wasRecent
6 years ago

and in 2015 if Cullen Jones was paying football he would be accused of not being black enough by other black people like they did to Russel Wilson, RG3, and Donavan Mcnabb

Seeger33
6 years ago

Love the Michael Norment reference!

Metro Zone quals 12 years old. He false started and was out! Shocking! However, that allowed me to make my first zone team. Never forget that moment. I saw who jumped, looked at my coach and was like… LOOKS LIKE IM IN!

He still made the zone team in other events. Time trailed the breast and would have won the meet by a mile. He never objected, and was always such a nice person.

Proud to say we were friends, and that I got to race against him.

Swammer
6 years ago

Lia Neal is as much Asian as she is Black and no one ever mentions this. Too often in America is “color” used in place of “black”….Why are black people given so much more attention than any other minority? Do the journalists and writers even care to look past their skin color? You don’t see an article posted about Lia being the first Asian woman to stand on the NCAA D1 podium, you see her being labeled as black.

beachmouse
Reply to  Swammer
6 years ago

Because plenty of Asians have had great success in the past and present- Nathan Adrian, Tara and Dana Kirk, Jasmine Tosky right off the top of my head among recent National team members, and Natalie Coughlin is part Filipino.

I think Asians aren’t quite noted in the same way in swimming in the USA because while you do get the Celina Li and Janet Hu among current collegians, a lot of those Asian-American swimmers are mixed race with a pretty European name (Does a last name of Tosky sound like is comes from any Asian ethnicity to anyone?) and the nature of the sport is that we spend a lot more time staring at torsos and arms than we… Read more »

floppy
Reply to  Swammer
6 years ago

Seriously?

I forgive if you were raised outside the USA. If you were raised in the USA, an entire American History class would be needed to answer your question “Why are black people given so much more attention than any other minority?”

And Lia Neal is by no means the first swimmer of Asian decent to podium at NCAAs. Limin Liu, Cindy Tran to name a couple champions… not to mention several divers.

SwimEagle
Reply to  Swammer
6 years ago

I think it’s great how swimming has branched out across all minorities! But as you can see through USA-S’s campaigns, the African-American community, along with the Hispanic community, has one of the lowest rates of basic survival swimming skills, which is obviously the first step towards competitive swimming. There are ugly stereotypes associated with those low rates that you don’t see in the Asian community, which could be why it’s given “more attention.”

E GAMBLE
Reply to  Swammer
6 years ago

Rowdy Gaines gets the significance of 3 African Americans in a NCAA division 1 final going 1-2-3. He commented on how special the moment was immediately. How many times has this happened before? Zero!!

Thomas The Train
Reply to  Swammer
6 years ago

Plus…I hate to say it…if you have a drop go African-American blood in you, for the most part, you are considered “Black”.

Case in point: Obama is widely considered the First Black President of the United States. But, he’s of mixed race: white mom/black dad. Why doesn’t anyone consider him the 44th White President?

Because he has African-American blood in him, everyone considers his as a black man.

DL
Reply to  Thomas The Train
6 years ago

Thomas – in fact, most African-Americans are of mixed race, if you use the definition that any white person in your lineage is non-black. The reason is that most blacks in the US have some white ancestry. Historically, blacks in the US have been discriminated against, based on the color of their skin, whether or not they have any white ancestry.

susan
Reply to  Swammer
6 years ago

black is a social construct. it was created to define the line between the oppressed and the oppressor. others in this country became white, regardless of whether they were french, german, polish, etc. it’s not the blacks are given more attention, it has to do with their history in this country. so being black has nothing to do with genetics. it has nothing to do with whether you are biracial, triracial, etc. that’s why one drop of black blood makes you black, regardless of how many other nonblack persons belong to your family tree. the line was drawn years ago. so lia will never be described as asian because socially, she is not. she is black. that is how she… Read more »