By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
On this final day of Black History Month 2011, USA Swimming salutes these seven athletes who made of name for themselves – and African-Americans – in the sport and continue to be heroes to and champions for young swimmers today.
Californian Anthony Ervin beat considerable, historic odds to become the first African-American not only to make the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team – but win gold.
He came out of William Hart High School in Valencia, Calif., as the top-ranked high school sprinter in the nation, and in his four seasons as a member of the California-Berkeley Golden Bears, he made good on those early expectations.
Ervin was named the Pac-10 Swimmer of the Year in 2002 and won the 100-yard freestyle at NCAA Championships three successive years (2000-2002), including setting new NCAA, American and U.S. Open record with a time of 41.62 his junior season. As a freshman, he won both the 50 and 100 freestyles at NCAAs, becoming the first Bear swimmers to win multiple titles since Olympian Matt Biondi.
At the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, Ervin competed in just two events – the 50 and 100m freestyles. In the final of the 100 free, he finished fifth in a time of 49.29, ensuring him a spot on the 400 freestyle relay team. In the final of the 50 free, he finished second behind Gary Hall Jr. with a time of 21.80 to earn a place in the event at the Olympics.
A month later at the Sydney Olympics, Ervin tied Hall Jr. to share gold in the 50m freestyle. He added a silver medal in the 400 free relay. He also won two World Championship gold medals. Three years later, he was gone, retiring from the sport at the age of 22.
Cullen Jones burst onto the swimming scene at the 2005 World University Games when he won gold in the 50 freestyle and became the first African-American male to win a gold medal at the World University Games.
A year later, at the 2006 Pan Pacific Games, he became the first African American male to break a world record in swimming in an Olympic-contested event as a part of USA Swimming’s 400 freestyle relay team. He also won the 50m freestyle, swimming the fastest time in the world that year. Jones was a four-time ACC Champion and 2006 NCAA Champion from North Carolina State University.
Jones further proved his speed in the water when he became the second African American to win an Olympic gold medal. Jones was a member of the now-legendary 400m free relay team in Beijing that upset the favored French.
When he's not training, Jones gives back to the community through motivational speaking, youth clinics and even private lessons. Working with USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash Program, Cullen is dedicated to helping minorities learn how to swim.
Nicknamed Ritz, Maritza Correia qualified for the USA Olympic Team in 2004, becoming the first Puerto Rican of African descent to be on the USA Olympic Swimming Team. She also became the first African-American swimmer from the United States to set an American and world swimming record.
After being diagnosed with severe scoliosis in 1988, Correia took up swimming as a treatment, and her future as one of the most decorated NCAA swimmers in history was set. Correia was a six-time Florida high school champion in five different events, and she left the University of Georgia as a 27-time All-American.
Correia cut her international competition teeth as a member of the 1997 USA National Junior Team that competed in Sweden and the 1999 USA Short Course World Championship Team that competed in Hong Kong.
In 2001, she won a gold medal in the 800m freestyle and two relay bronze medals as a member of the U.S. World Championship Team in Japan. Two years later, Correia earned a gold medal swimming in prelims of the 400m free relay at the World Championships, and in 2004, she earned an Olympic silver medal swimming prelims of the 400m free relay at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
Muhammad spent his early years in metropolitan Atlanta in an area notorious for drug-abuse and crime. At the age of 7, he learned to swim in an inner city program and has since made history.
In 1994, Muhammad accepted a full scholarship to swim for Stanford University, becoming the first African-American to compete for the varsity men's team. During his sophomore year, he qualified for the 1995 Pan Pacific Games held in Atlanta, becoming the first African-American to do so.
In 1998, he led Stanford to its 17th straight Pac-10 Championship and 8th NCAA Team Championship, clocking the fastest relay split ever in the 50 fly. He finished his collegiate career with seven Pac-10 championship titles, 25 All-American honors and three NCAA, U.S. Open and American records. Muhammad graduated from Stanford as an Academic All-American with a degree in International Relations. Muhammad holds an MBA from Goizueta Business School at Emory University.
In 1999, Muhammad qualified for the Pan American Games and became the first African-American to co-captain a USA Swimming international team. A year later, he competed in the Short Course World Championships, winning both silver and bronze medals. At those World Championships, Muhammad became the first African-American to win a medal at a major international swimming competition.
In 2000, he competed as a championship finalist at the 2000 Olympic Trials in the 100m freestyle and as a semi-finalist in the 50m freestyle. After that, he took some time out of the pool. A year later, through a joint effort with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Atlanta, Muhammad launched Swim for Life!, an initiative aimed at teaching metropolitan Atlanta's youth to swim.
Over the course of his storied swimming career, Muhammad has broken a total of 10 American records. He is a tw- time Short Course World Championship medalist, a four-time U.S. Open champion, a five-time World Cup Swimming champion and a two-time runner-up at U.S. Nationals.
In 2009, after many years away from the competition, Muhammad returned to swimming. His performance in the 50 freestyle at that summer’s ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships earned him another U.S. National Team appointment.
Few swimmers come as close to making an Olympic Team as Byron Davis did in 1996.
A four-time All-American and National Team member, Davis missed making the 1996 U.S. Olympic Team with a third-place finish in the 100 butterfly at Olympic Trials. He missed finishing second – and making the team, which would have been the first for an African-American swimmer – by three-tenths of a second.
He returned four years later but came up short of making team; instead, he proudly cheered on Anthony Ervin as he became the first African American to make a USA Olympic Swimming Team.
His near miss in 2000 was his third straight at an Olympic Trials. In 1992, after failing to make the team, the All-American at UCLA gave up the sport but returned 18 months later as he prepared for 1996.
Even though her bid to become an Olympian at the 2000 Olympic Swimming Trials came up short, Alison Terry continues to shape future minority Olympians every day as a member of the USA Swimming Olympic International Committee. In 2006, she was first African-American elected to the USA Swimming Board of Directors.
Terry was a promising high school swimmer who postponed college for a year to vie for a spot on the 1992 Olympic Team headed for Barcelona, Spain. When her age-group coach – the very person who convinced her to wait a year for college – unexpectedly left the time in mid-way through her training, Terry switched club teams to begin training with Mission Viejo. At 1992 Olympic Trials, she failed to make the team.
With that experience behind her – and smarter for it – Terry accepted a full scholarship to the University of Tennessee in 1992. Following her freshman season, she left Knoxville and returned to California, where she stopped swimming.
After being away from competition for five years, Terry returned to swimming in 1999. That year, she captured her first international medal in the women’s 400m freestyle relay when she competed at the World University Games, and the win and the experience re-ignited her Olympic dreams and fueled her desire to continue training.
At the 2000 Olympic Trials, she just missed making the final of the 50 freestyle by two-hundredths of a second, thus ending her bid to become the first African-American female to represent the United States at the Olympics.
Leading up to the Trials, Terry engaged the media in as much publicity as possible to raise awareness about the lack of opportunities for African-American communities. And even though her Olympic dream ended, she continued her crusade to increase diversity throughout the swimming community. Terry began implementing swimming programs in San Diego’s inner-city schools, educating elementary school students on beach safety and assisting in lesson programs.
In 2000, with encouragement from Terry, along with her husband and mother, San Diego officials agreed to keep inner-city pools open year-round for the first time. In 2005, Terry was honored alongside sports heroes Muhammad Ali and Magic Johnson, in addition to Olympian Larsen Jensen, at the Aquatic Foundation of Metropolitan Los Angeles.
Silva was the first African American to make a U.S. National Team, qualifying for the World University Games in Edmonton, Canada in 1982, where he served as team captain. In 1984, he became the first African American to compete in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for swimming. He competed in both the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Trials but failed to make the team. He was later named director of minority programs at the International Swimming Hall of Fame, before passing away in a tragic auto accident in Fort Lauderdale in 1990 at the age of 29.