Part of a Winning Team
By Henrietta J. Burroughs
East Palo Alto Today
Posted: August 11, 2008
In the 2008 Olympics, now taking place in China, much attention has been given to Michael Phelps and rightfully so. Thus far, in this Olympic competition, Phelps has won three Olympic gold medals. He is striving for eight gold medals to break the record that Mark Spitz gained, when he won seven Olympic Gold Medals in the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. Spitz holds the record for the most gold medals won by a single person in any Olympics.
Phelps had a winning team this week in the Olympic swimming relay race in which America won the gold. His winning team included Garrett Weber-Gale, Jason Lezak and Cullen Jones, who is currently ranked as one of the fastest swimmers in the world. Needless to say, Cullen Jones is one of the first African Americans to gain that title, which is all the more remarkable given recent statistics which show that African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans lag in swimming skills and swimming safety.
One report released in 2002 by USA Swimming, showed that the sport of swimming is dominated by Caucasians, with Asians amounting to roughly four percent and African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans each accounting for less than two percent of the sport. Read the 2002 report here.
While minorities in swimming are just that a minority, when it comes to drowning deaths, minorities all too often make up the majority. In a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet released in 2007, statistics showed that between 2000 and 2005, African Americas, across all ages, were 1.3 times more likely to die from drowning than whites. American Indians and Alaskan Natives, were 1.8 times more likely to die from drowning than whites.
But things might be changing with minorities turning the tide with their growing involvement in swimming clubs. New efforts are being made to get more youth from inner city communities around the country involved in swimming.
In fact, some sports observers are even beginning to ask, as in this article, whether swimming might be the next great African American sport. Other national efforts involve bilingual programs to target Latino youth.
One thing is for sure: Minority youth are beginning to have more swimming role models with the achievements of such swimmers as Cullen Jones and Maritza Correia, who became the first black American woman to compete on a U.S. Olympic swim team. Correia competed in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, where she won a silver medal for her swim skills.
With the spotlight now being placed in minority communities on swimming as a sport, minority youth will be able to see that they can have other sports options in addition to baseball, basketball and football. They will also see a sport which will give them lifesaving skills.