Famous Black Olympic Swimmers Who Paved the Way

The Olympics are always exciting to watch. They bring the fastest and strongest from around the world to find out which nation has cultivated the best of the best. While it’s always inspiring to see what is happening with the current Olympics, in honor of Black History Month, we’re taking the time to look back at some of the most famous black swimmers who made it possible for the growing diversity that we see in the sport today. 

Maritza Correia

The first record-setting black swimmer we’re looking at is Maritza Correia. She was the first black American to set an American and world swimming record, and the first female black Olympic swimmer to join the U.S. team. 

Martiza started off her swimming career in choppy waters. Her doctor diagnosed her with scoliosis and recommended swimming as part of her treatment and therapy program. From there, she became obsessed with swimming. 

By the time she was 18, she became the 50-meter freestyle U.S. national champion in the 18-and-under category. She went on to take one gold in the 2002 National Championships, and gold in the 2003 World Championships, as well as one gold and two bronze medals at the 2011 World Championships. In 2004, she made the Olympic team and won silver as part of the 4×100-meter freestyle relay in Athens, Greece. 

As the first black female swimmer on the Olympic team, she paved the way for other great black swimmers like Cullen Jones—more on him in a moment—as well as Simone Manuel and Lia Neal to be on the Olympic team and achieve greatness. She said that she “want[ed] to inspire other minorities to get involved with swimming and love it as much as I do…I’m proud to be the first, but I don’t want to be the last.” And she absolutely wasn’t. With each year, the Olympic team becomes more and more diverse thanks to pioneers like Maritza. 

Cullen Jones

Cullen is the first black male swimmer to hold a world record in swimming. At the 2008 United States Olympic Trials, Cullen set the record for the 50-meter freestyle with a time of 21.59, and he didn’t stop there. He set the 50-meter freestyle American record in 2009 at the U.S. National Championships with a 21.40. 

His record-breaking career wasn’t limited to solo efforts—Cullen was part of the 2008 and 2012 Olympic teams. In 2008, he teamed up with the likes of Michael Phelps, Jason Lezak, and Garret Weber-Gale, and together they got the gold medal in the 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay, which also came with the world record time of 3:08.24. 

In 2012, Cullen made waves by winning three medals at the London Olympics. He won silver in the 50-meter freestyle and was a member of the silver medal-winning team of the 4 x 100-meter freestyle team, as well as the gold-winning 4 x 100-meter medley team. 

Cullen wasn’t always a swimmer. When he was only five years old, he nearly drowned at a waterpark and was rescued by his father. From there, Cullen wanted to learn how to swim, and it became his passion. Cullen is proud of who he is and inspires youth to become better swimmers and challenge themselves. 

Together with USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash program, Cullen tries to help all people learn how to swim. He says, “You’ve gotten a whole culture to believe that swimming isn’t something that they do…We have changed that stereotype.”

Swimming for Everyone

Here at SwimJim, we believe that everyone, no matter their age, race, or gender, can become a swimmer. Contact us today to find out more about how we can help you get started with your dreams of learning to swim—or just having fun with a competitive game of Marco Polo with your family and friends in the deep end of your pool. Our experienced coaches and staff at both our Houston and New York City area locations are here to help.