By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Black Swimmers Making Their Mark Across The Country
IZMIR, TURKEY— Many foreign countries have some of their best collegiate athletes, some who train in the United States that later represent their country, compete in hopes of bringing medals back home to their country. Some of the main attractions at the University Games are basketball, track & field, swimming, and the baseball/softball competitions. This year the United States had two African American female and one African American male swimmer to represent the United States. Maritza Correia, 2004 Olympic silver medalist, who competed in the 4×100 freestyle relay, 4×100 medley relay, and the 50 freestyle; Haley McGregory, sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin, competed in the 50 & 100 backstroke, and McGregory swam on the 4×100 medley relay with Correia; and Cullen Jones, a senior at North Carolina State University, competed in the 50 meter freestyle.
Both females are no strangers to the pressure of representing the United States in big international competitions. Correia, a University of Georgia grad and sprint specialist, has competed in numerous international competitions. The Olympics being the highest competition in her career, Correia has also competed at the 2001 & 2003 World Championships earning a gold medal in the 4×100 free relay in 2003, a silver in the 4×100 free relay and gold as a member of the 4×200 free relay 2001. And last October marked her second appearance at the Short Course World Championships which was held in Indianapolis, Indiana, earning gold as a member of the 4×100 free relay.
Correia a multi-medal winner, known for her great relay performances, finally had her shot for an individual medal in the 50 meter freestyle. Her morning performance was the best out of the field, going in top seed for the finals that night, Correia’s odds of winning a medal were high. “I wanted to be the fastest for tonight. I didn’t get a good start. This afternoon, I’m going to work on my starts and hopefully turn my race around, but I got a good lane, so that’s good”.
The 50 freestyle is one of the hardest races to swim, where everything aspect of the race needs to be perfect; the start, the finish, knowing when to breathe, and knowing how to control your body position throughout the race, can add hundredths or tenths to your time. Correia, an American Record holder in the 50 yard freestyle, held all of these fundamentals together to get her first individual international gold medal with the winning time of 25.38 only 0.23 seconds off of her best time, winning the event by less than a tenth of a second. Swimming one of the last events on the last day was a great way to finish the meet for Correia adding another gold medal for the United States.
Haley McGregory born in England, now a U.S. citizen, moved to the states early in her swimming career, a backstroker by nature, McGregory has been one of the best backstroke competitors for the United States. The World University Team is her second international team, her first being the 2003 Short Course World Championships; this World University Games marks her second U.S. national team with teammate Correia.
McGregory competed in the 50 and 100 meter backstroke. In both events McGregory went into the evening as top seed, but would walk away from both races without a medal, just missing a medal by 0.15 in the 100 backstroke for a fourth place finish and 0.54 was enough to keep McGregory from getting a medal in the 50 backstroke placing her eighth in that event. Although McGregory did not get an individual medal she did earn a gold medal for her backstroke leg on the 4×100 medley relay.
McGregory, going into her sophomore year at the University of Texas at Austin, also competed at the 2004 Olympic Trails where she place third in both the 100 and 200 backstroke events. Less than a month later McGregory competed at Summer Nationals in Palo Alto, Ca, where she turned her last disappointing meet into gold by winning her first national title in the 100 backstroke. She did not get to swim at the Olympics that year but she made her mark as one of the best backstroke hopefuls for the 2008 Olympic team. McGregory will use this meet and her past performances as motivation for improvement in her individual races come NCAA time next March and next summer swimming at Summer Nationals where the next USA national team selection will be held.
This past season Jones placed 5th at the World Championship trials, last April, in the 50 freestyle. The four swimmers who finished ahead of Jones already earned their spots on the World Championship team which opened the door for Jones to make his first International team. Jones was ready to make his mark as a rookie to international competition. Cullen Jones, a sprint specialist and a respectively unknown swimmer on the international and national scene.
Jones event was on the last day of the meet, having to wait a week to swim your first swim would be a task for most but Jones held his composure and was determined to win. And win he did, Jones claimed his first international gold medal winning the 50 meter freestyle with a time of 22.22, just half a second off of the world record. Jones also broke the old World University Gamesï¿½ 50 freestyle record that morning with a time of 22.17, a 0.43 second drop from his performance at the World Championship trials, both times would have given Jones a spot on the World Championship team. “I don’t know where that came from,” Jones said after his World University Games record swim. “I know it might be clichï¿½, but that’s how I feel. It felt like a blur the whole time. I guess everything came together. After the race, I looked back at the wall and thought, `That’s not right. All the hard work I’ve put in this summer finally paid off.”
The hard work that Jones has put in over the year has paid off for Jones. During the collegiate season Jones was recognized as one of the best sprinters in the ACC. The work that he has put him rewarded him greatly a 13th place finish at the NCAA championships in the 50 freestyle with a time of 19.83. Jones goes into next season with confidence after this summer and his performance at the NCAA championships as well as World Championship trials.
Correia and Jones made more history as being the first two African American swimmers to win gold in the 50 meter freestyle at the University Games.Correia, McGregory, and Jones are role models for African Americans for the sport of swimming. Others include Tanica Jamison, University of Texas graduate and two time national champion, Darryl Washington, senior standout at University of Pittsburgh and World Championship Trials consolation finalist, and Brielle White, senior at the University of Virginia finished fourth in 100 back at 2004 Olympic Trials. These six athletes are trying to make their mark in a predominantly Caucasian sport. Retired swimmers Sabir Muhammad, Byron Davis, Keiko Price, and many others have opened the doors and paved the ways for others to follow. Each year there are more African American participants competing at high levels of competition and are not far off of becoming the majority instead of the minority. Thanks to different websites, articles, and television, this change can and will happen, making way for the new generation of African American swimmers.