Sammy Lee and Vicki Manalo Draves
Sammy Lee and Vicki Manalo Draves

Before there was Pat McCormick, Ingrid Engel-Kramer or Fu Mingxia, there was Vicki Manalo Draves.

At the 1948 London Olympics, the first summer games held since 1936, an abeyance caused by the Second World War, Manalo Draves became the first American woman to win two gold medals in an Olympic Games, as well as the first American woman to win both the springboard and platform diving finals at the Olympics.

Manalo Draves was also the first Asian American woman to win a medal in the Olympics. Born to a mother from England and a father from the Philippines, Manalo Draves grew up in the South-of-Market district of San Francisco. Her mother was a maid at a hotel and he father was a chef and musician on ships and a houseboy for an army colonel in the Presidio, doing all they could just to make ends meet. Certainly there was no money left over for swimming or diving lessons.

But somehow, Manalo Draves was spotted, and asked if she wanted to learn how to dive. And fortunately, she was in California, rich in swimming and diving coaches at the time. So learn she did, from one coach after another. Although not her coach, one of America’s best divers in 1944, Sammy Lee, saw Manalo Draves’ form, and introduced himself. Lee then introduced the young diver to a friend and diving coach, Lyle Draves. Not only did Lyle become Vicki’s coach, he became her life partner, married for over 60 years.

But wife or not, the husband worked the wife hard in training. As explained in this Central City article, she worked during the day as a secretary in San Francisco, and took a train across the bay to the Athens Athletic Club in Oakland where she trained every evening from 7pm to 10pm, making 50 to 100 dives a night. With victories at the US National Championships from 1946 – 48 in platform, as well as a championship in 1948 in springboard, Manalo Draves was building up to be a favorite for a medal in the 1948 London Olympics.

In 1948, Manalo Draves was battling teammate, Zoe Ann Olsen, in the springboard. Going into her last dive, having fallen behind Olsen, Manalo Draves could not talk to her coach, as coaches were forbidden to enter the competition space. Feeling she was unable to perform to her best, and worried that she was not going to nail her last dive – a back one-and-a-half layout – she went up to the only friendly face on the deck – teammate, Sammy Lee. As she wrote in the book, “Tales of Gold,” Lee told her what she needed to hear:

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Newlyweds Victoria and Lyle Draves, 1946, from the book Tales of Gold

I was very worried about the last dive, which was a back one-and-a-half layout, because I had not been hitting it at all in practice. I said to him, “Oh Sam, what am I going to do? This is the dive I have to get.” He told me, “Come on. You didn’t come all this way just to say, “I can’t do it.’ You’ve got to get up there and hit it.”

Hit it she did. And as Manalo Draves won the platform competition going away, she earned two gold medals in London. As for Sammy Lee, he won gold in the platform and bronze in the springboard competition. The first Asian Americans to medal in the Olympics dominated the diving competition at the 1948 London Games. Lee, who would become Dr Sammy Lee, serving in the US Army Medical Corps in South Korea during the Korean War, would be a coach and a friend to some of the greatest divers of the 20th century.

In the case of Manalo Draves, Lee not only introduced Manalo Draves to her husband, he was the one who gave Manalo Draves away at her wedding, as her father had already passed away.

Manalo Draves went on to a career as a swimming entertainer, performing with Buster Crabbe and Esther Williams. And then she stopped, disappearing from the American consciousness for decades.

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Ingrid Engel Kraemer carries the unified German Team’s Olympic Banner at 1964 Tokyo Olympics, from the book, The Olympic Century The XVIII Olympiad

Before the 1960 Rome Olympics, very few people knew who Ingrid Krämer was. After her victories in the women’s 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform diving competitions in Rome, she was the face of German sport. According to Der Spiegel in an article in 1964, the newly emerged blonde superstar, Krämer, was inundated by requests for marriage.

Krämer, who eventually accepted a proposal by weightlifter, Hein Engel, proved she was no fluke. In fact, she proved to be the most dominant female diver in the world, by talking gold in springboard and platform by double digit points over her second place competitors at the 1962 European Championships. So when the 1964 Olympics began, Engel-Krämer was a frontrunner.

In the 3-meter springboard competition, Engel-Krämer’s competition were two Americans named Jeanne Collier and Patsy Willard, who aimed to restore glory to the United States and prevent the East German Engel-Krämer from repeating her gold medal victory in Rome. But Engel-Krämer was dominant in the springboard again, taking gold handily.

According to the book, Olympic Games 1964 Innsbruck – Tokyo, edited in German by Harald Lechenperg, Engel-Krämer’s advantage was precision.

People say of the former Olympic victor, Mrs. Engel, that she has no longer possesses the elegance she used to have. Well, her strongest point was never elegance, but sureness. Ingrid Engel dives with a precision of movements which is lacking in everyone else. She makes no mistakes. It is easy to slip up on springboard diving when the body, as if touched by magic, turns, twists and moves about its own axis.

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Ingrid Kraemer and Heins Engel

Collier told me that if not for a single dive, she could have challenged Engel-Krämer for gold at the Tokyo Olympcis. Collier’s first of the competition’s ten dives was horrible, scoring a horrible 4.5 of ten. But her final two dives, which had high degrees of difficulty, allowed her to pass her teammate to win gold. “Ingrid Kraemer was a beautiful diver,” Collier told me, “and deserved to win. She was the most consistent.”

By taking gold in the springboard, Engel-Krämer would reach the heights of famed diver Pat McCormick, who was then the only woman to have won gold medals in both springboard and platform in two consecutive Olympics. But Lesley Bush of America would have none of that. While the competition was close, Engel-Krämer would take silver.

According to Lechenperg, Bush was relatively unknown, someone who had only taken up platform diving three years prior to the Olympics. But she executed on her plan. “Leslie Bush knows the recipe for success: safety first. She takes the lead during the first compulsory dives. Later on she lets go of it. The “iron” Ingrid now for the first time shows her nerves. She risks everything with one dive, but the judges only give her 16.80 points. Leslie Bush has won.”

British journalist, Christopher Brasher, wrote in his book, A Diary of the XVIIIth Olympiad, that Engel-Krämer may have been a reluctant participant in the Olympics, which could have affected her performance.

I have heard that she didn’t really want to come to Tokyo. She was married a year ago to one of East Germany’s best weightlifters, Heinrich Engel. They are both students at University and the combination of being a Hausfrau and a student doesn’t leave her much time for training. But east of the iron curtain it is only too easy for the authorities to put some gentle pressure on a reluctant athlete. With many of the necessities of life, to say nothing of the luxuries, in short supply, the stars of sport are often given preferential treatment – so it pays to keep on competing.

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Ingrid Engel Kraemer Tokyo1964, from the book,XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964_Asahi Shimbun

Der Spiegel offered another explanation why Engel-Krämer was not able to repeat her gold-medal ways in the platform dive – she was a bit too curvaceous. Here is a Google translation of part of that article:

Thus the German, as the first jumper in the world of the double-screw somersaults – a one-and-a-half-turn about the longitudinal axis of the body, with a simultaneous twisting of the body and its transverse axis – succeeded just as accurately as an ordinary head-jump. A 10-meter jump case takes at most 2.1 seconds, a jump from the three-meter board even less. Ingrid Engel-Krämer made her work very quickly.

In Tokyo, Ingrid Engel-Krämer was no longer able to finish her turn so early. A disadvantage that cannot be compensated by training and energy in the long term is the following: the best in the world does not have the ideal figure for her sport. Ingrid Engel-Krämer is only 1.58 meters tall, but weighs 56 kilograms and tends to fullness. “She is as wide as high,” her first coach mocked.

Still, three golds out of four makes Engel-Krämer one of the greatest divers of the 20th century. Despite references to her looks and her moniker, the Doll from Dresden, Engel-Krämer jumped hundreds of times every week, climbing the tower steps 10-meters, smacking into the water painfully, pausing about three minutes and doing that again, over and over. As the Der Spiegel article mentioned regarding her 500 jumps a week, Engel-Krämer become so good that legendary American diving Olympic champion and coach, Sammy Lee admitted that “On a bad day, she’s still good.”

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Ingrid Engel Kraemer Rome 1960 Getty

I remember walking the streets of Dresden in then East Germany in 1985, noting how modern the city looked and felt compared to my previous destination of Prague. And yet, I was constantly reminded of the terrible toll World War II had on this city, as I strolled by buildings in elegant decay, reduced to skeletons by the incessant firebombing by the Allies some 40 years before.

One of the greatest female divers of the 20th century, Ingrid Engel-Krämer, was a little less than two years old when the sky rained fire on her home town.

When the 1960 Rome Olympics rolled around, East Germany was still in a tremulous existential state. Born of the ideological split between Allies at the end of the Second World War, the Potsdam Agreement dictated a “provisional border” that would separate Germany into East and West, the former to become The German Democratic Republic (GDR), and the latter the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG).

And yet, in 1960, tensions between the two Germanys, and their proxies in the global cold war battle, the Soviet Union and the United States, were still high. Author of the book, Rome 1960, David Maraniss quoted a US National Security Agency report stating that East Germany was “teetering on the brink of stability”, meaning that the possibility of East German government collapsing was diminishing rapidly. Of course, a year later, a wall was constructed on the East Berlin side, symbolizing in a very real way that East Germany was here to stay, making Germany, by default, the epicenter of Cold War hostility.

During the Rome Olympics, the GDR government declared that West German citizens would not be allowed to enter East Germany – this while over a 100,000 East Germans snuck through the border into West Germany. This ban was a reaction to an event in West Germany celebrating the return of World War II German POWs and their relatives. East Germany viewed this event as a celebration of Germany’s fascist past.

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Ingrid Engel Kraemer carries German flag at Rome Olympics closing ceremony

It was under this geo-political cloud that athletes around the world gathered in Rome for the 1960 Olympics. The condition by the International Olympic Committee for German athletes to compete was that they had to do so as a unified team, which meant competing under a specially created German Olympic flag. East and West German athletes on the whole got along as teammates on the field and in the Village. But, as Maraniss wrote, the press in each of the two Germanys turned Engel-Krämer’s stunning achievements in Rome into a proxy Cold War battle, not because Engel-Krämer, an East German, defeated an American, Paula Jean Myers-Pope, in the 10-meter platform dive, but because both East and West Germany claimed her as their own.

When Kraemer was competing to make the unified team, she felt that the West German press was very “unfriendly” to her; at least one journalist, but her account, cursed her because of politics. But now the West Germans were embracing her as a German first, one of their own. The Western newspapers covered her events with obvious national pride, as though there were no separation between East and West. Accounts in Die Welt and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung raised no questions about the judging and described the final dives in a way that left no doubt that Kraemer had again outperformed her competition. German fans, who dominated the Stadio del Nuoto audience during her events, cheered long and loud for her every effort.

Yet the warmth the West Germans showed Kraemer infuriated the East Germans, who thought the other side was trying to steal her show and diminish the ideological implications of her triumph. Kraemer’s victory was no accident, East Germany’s Neues Deutschland proclaimed. Rather, she owed her success to her “joyful life in the socialism of the German Democratic Republic.” The paper also complained that for all the copy Kraemer in the Western press, it was never mentioned that her father was an official of the SED and that the young diver herself was a member of the socialist mass youth organization.

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Paula Jean Myers, Ingrid Kraemer and Elizabeth Ferris in Rome springboard finalists

She started diving off a low board at the age of five, even before she knew how to swim. Starting from the age of eleven, she would join her friends at the Dresden diving club a few times a week and stay there until the early evening. Those were the early days of young Ingrid Engel-Krämer, who would unexpectedly become one of the stars of the 1960 Rome Olympics, winning gold in both the women’s 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform diving competitions.

David Maraniss, in his seminal book Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World, profiled Engel-Krämer, explaining that at the time, Americans were the dominant force in diving. In fact, until Engel-Krämer broke the streaks, women from Team USA had taken both gold and silver in the previous seven summer Olympics in the 10-meter platform, and gold in the previous 8 Olympiads in the 3-meter springboard.

In the springboard, Engel-Krämer was a runaway train, showing off a precision in her technique that she would become renown for. As Maraniss noted in a Die Welt article, she was so far ahead in the springboard that “she could have jumped into the water with only a little grace in the last round, and she would have won the gold medal.”

Could this wunderkind repeat in the 10-meter platform? Paula Jean Myers-Pope was confident that she would win back American glory in diving. And while the springboard event was a cakewalk for Engel-Krämer, the platform competition was a gritty end-to-end battle. As Maraniss explained, it came down to the final dives for both.

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Enjoying Rome.

Both Engel-Krämer’s and Myers-Pope’s dives were, as I understand it, similar – a backward flip followed by two-and-a-half somersaults. Myers-Pope apparently hit the water with more splash than Engel-Krämer, who entered the water, as Maraniss describes, with a “quiet snap into the blue pool”. Additionally, the judges felt that Engel-Krämer’s dive had a higher degree of difficulty, which brought protests from the US. But in the end, Engel-Krämer earned her second gold medal, and not by a small margin.

There was a time when little Ingrid was scared to ascend the tower, fearful of the fall and the pain. In fact, her skin was considered somewhat sensitive to the impact on the water. Her father crafted special vests made of rubber foam to protect her back and stomach. “I wasn’t courageous at all,” she was quoted as saying. “I had to work hard on it and only bit by bit managed to overcome it.” Even in Rome, according to Maraniss, it was the fear of pain that drove her to focus her thoughts on how to dive perfectly to minimize the impact of the water on her skin.

But in Rome in 1960, Engel-Krämer was the blonde sensation, the teenager who broke the American stranglehold on diving, and as the Western press referred to her as, the Dresden Doll.

 

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Could you stare into the abyss from 10 meters above, and leap? This video from the New York Times shows that the average person could not. (Click on the image.)
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Ken and Jeanne in Tokyo, from the collection of Jeanne Collier

He was a 19-year-old university student from Illinois. She was an 18-year-old high school student from Arizona. They would go on to be diving’s power couple in Tokyo as Ken Sitzberger won gold in the men’s 3-meter springboard diving competition, and Jeanne Collier took silver in the women’s 3-meter springboard competition.

Collier told me that there was some resistance by the coaches to their dating during final preparations for the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo, but she said there was never really anything to worry about regarding their readiness.

We met in 1962 at a Nationals. He was from Chicago and I was from Phoenix. We had a letter writing campaign. He went to Indiana. I was still in high school. We got to know each other. So as we prepared for Tokyo, he and I hung out together. The coaches didn’t like that. But it was harmless. At that time, we would have time off, talk at meals, but the focus had to be on training.

Ken & Jeanne Wedding
Ken and Jeanne on their wedding day, from the collection of Jeanne Collier

And the results spoke for themselves. Not only did Sitzberger and Collier win medals at the Tokyo Summer Games, they did so in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion.

In Sitzberger’s case, he was trailing USA teammate Frank Gorman going into the penultimate 9th dive of the competition. While Gorman had his worst dive of the competition, Sitzberger had his best, leapfrogging Gorman into the lead. Despite a strong final dive from Gorman, Sitzberger was able to hold on to win. As his coach, Jerry Darda, was quoted as saying, Sitzberger was a confident person, who a year before, despite winning bronze at the Pan American Games, told Darda that he would win gold in Tokyo.

“Kenny said right-out: ‘I’m going to win the gold medal.’  I didn’t want to ruin his confidence, but I asked him how he could be sure.  He had barely made the team and missed fourth by only five points.  But Kenny had analyzed the whole thing, the strengths and weaknesses of the other divers who were ranked one, two, three in the world – they were his competition – and he knew they’d all be going to training camp for a few weeks before the Olympics.  He told me ‘Those guys are going to see me in training camp and that’s going to help me.  They’re going to feel a lot of extra pressure after they see me dive every day.  They’re going to realize I just don’t miss.'”

In Collier’s case, she was trailing her teammate Patsy Willard as they entered the final optional dives, the three dives where the level of difficulty can send you crashing out of the race, or propel you to victory. The reigning Olympic champion, Ingrid Engel-Kramer of East Germany, led the competition from start to finish, and took gold for the second consecutive Olympics. Willard had a 3-point lead on Collier entering the optional dives, as well as the experience of battling the Olympic pressures in Rome four years before. On top of that, Collier did poorly on her first optional dive – “a forward 2 ½ somersault, which was horrible.” But she pulled herself together for a come-back.

“I had a talk with myself. I had the highest degree of difficulty. I had my two highest difficulty dives left and they were to be my best dives.” Collier snatched silver from her