With a broad history that dates back to the early 1400’s in sub-Saharan Africa, swimming has been a huge part of Black (African) history. SwimJim believes that diversity of all sorts is a key component in motivating today’s youth to follow their biggest dreams and more. We at SwimJim would like to highlight black swimming pioneers of both today and yesteryear.
Cullen Jones is the first African American 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.
Cullen was part of the 2008 and 2012 Olympic teams. In 2008, he teamed up with Michael Phelps, Jason Lezak, and Garret Weber-Gale, and together they won the gold medal in the 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay, which also came with the world record time of 3:08.24- a record which still stands today.
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.
Lia Neal is an Olympic medalist from right here in NYC! Born in Brooklyn, Lia took lessons with SwimJim a few years before her Olympic debut in 2012. In the 2012 London Olympics, Lia won a Bronze medal in the 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay. In the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Neal won the silver medal for the same event.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests during the summer of 2020, Lia started “Swimmers for Change”, a not-for-profit organization. Neal describes the organization as a grassroots movement involving over 30 Olympic, Paralympic, and US National team athletes with the goal of supporting black communities and fighting systemic racism.
Tice Davids, a runaway slave from Kentucky escaped by swimming away in the Ohio River. With his “owner” rowing after him in a boat, Davids swam his way to freedom all the way to the state of Ohio. His former owner was quoted in a local newspaper implying that he drowned saying he must’ve gotten to his destination “on an Underground Railroad”. Keying the now infamous term used by slaves in the late 1800’s and onward.