Young, Gifted & Black Series
By Taki S. Raton
The sign as dated on July 14, 1931 reads: PUBLIC SWIMMING POOL WHITE ONLY.
The solid cast iron sign measures 10 ¼ inches long, stands 4 ¾ inches tall, has some paint loss and rust with a hole on each side for hanging. Posted some 80 years later on July 11, 2011 by DecorativeMetalWare.com, on eBay the sign sold at auction for $6.50.
“In the south, Jim Crow laws kept Blacks out of public swimming pools and off the most desirable beaches and lakeside swimming spots,” write Lee Pitts in his 2007 researched account, “Black Splash: The History of African-American Swimmers.”
But today, 83 years following the July 14, 1931 metal sign posting and 50 years since the 1964 Bill of Rights act striking down segregated restrictions, African Americans are not only enjoying the right to swim in public aquatic domains, but are also competing with and achieving victory over some of the top American competitive swimmers in the country.
He is young, gifted and Black. Justin Lynch at the age of 16 on June 27, 2013 set the 15-16 U.S. national age-group record with a time of 52.75 in the 100-meter butterfly.
Justin’s time of 52.75 seconds beat Michael Phelps’s score of 52.98 when Phelps’ at 16 competed in the same age category in 2001.
According to a June 27, 2013 posting of USA Today, Justin won the consolation final in the event, “that the most decorated Olympian of all time dominated for so long.” This now renowned historical setting was the World Championship Trials in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Shannon Sims in her OZY writing, “Justin Lynch: U.S. Swimming’s next Michael Phelps?” reveals that while many of his competitors in the 15- 16 age group had already muscled up and showing off ripped abs, Lynch looked pretty ordinary, his appearance gave no hint of his masterful skill and determination let along – his strength.
The moment was caught on tape, writes Sims. “Once his outstretched fingertips hit the wall, Lynch lifted his head up to the outside world as the wave of water caught up with him.”
Justin reveals in OZY that, “I could hear my friends screaming at the end of the pool, but I didn’t know for sure until I turned around.”
Sims shares that Justin, “slowly, perhaps, timidly, turned to see the four read numbers: 52.75. And a new era had begun.
She would add that at only 16, Justin “had bested the best,” as his competitors began congratulating him – “Justin Lynch breaks Phelps’ record!” Sims lauds.
Missy Franklin, yet another swimming prodigy was watching when Lynch touched the wall as reported in USA Today.
“That says so much beating one of Phelps’ records. I know he’s going to keep it up.”
She says that it is, “incredible to see how far swimming is coming.
After 2009, people were saying these records aren’t going to be broken for years and years and years.
And I think that kind of really pushed us and we were like, ‘really? OK,’ it really set the bar for us.”
Franklin further posits that, “Swimmers are so motivated and now these records are falling, and it’s so exciting to watch.”
The Today feature notes that Justin’s coach, Paul Stafford, called the performance “significant” because the young swimmer now realizes that he can compete with swimmers five, six, seven years older than him.
“It’s the first time he hasn’t acquiesced to them,” Stafford said.
“He realized he belongs. He’s got all the tools to continue to get better.”
Since then, Lynch has only gotten faster as reported in OZY. From his home in Vallejo, California where he grew up, Justin was packing before leaving for his first year at Berkeley, 45 minutes away, where he selected business as a major.
The posting shares that he chose the University of California, Berkeley, in part, for coach David Durden’s reputation for underwater work, described in the account as that, “quiet transitional part of the race at the start and after turns.”
The Cal team is also the reigning NCAA champion in men’s swimming and diving. Justin’s goal is to come back to the nationals, win the event and aim for the 2016 Olympics.
The now 18 year-old is frequently asked in USA Today if he’s the next Michael Phelps.
His response – “No! There’s only one Michael Phelps.”
Born June 30, 1985, Michael Fred Phelps II is hailed at the most decorated Olympian of all time.
He holds the all-time record of 18 Olympic gold medals, 11 Olympic gold medals in individual events and 13 Olympic medals in individual events for a male.
Phelps won eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games and took the record for the most first-place finishes at any single Olympic Games.
In the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Phelps won four gold’s and two silver medals, making him the most successful athlete of the Games for the third Olympics in a row.
His international titles and record-breaking performances have earned him seven times the World Swimmer of the Year Award and American Swimmer of the Year Award nine times as well as the FINA Swimmer of the Year Award in 2012.
His unprecedented Olympic success in 2008 earned Phelps “Sports Illustrated” magazine Sportsman of the Year award.
Striving for this high bar, the 6’1, 165 pound Justin is a member of the National Junior Team that competed at the 2013 World Championships in Dubai where he won a bronze medal in the 100 butterfly.
At the 2013 Junior Nationals, he won a gold medal in the 100 butterfly and a silver medal in the 200 butterfly.
“Why swimming?” the question is asked in OZY. His older sister, Kaitlyn, now an outstanding swimmer for Pace University, started taking lessons when Justin was young.
“She’s the one in the family who started swimming first, and I followed her.”
He adds that he, because of his height, started with basketball because his did like it at the time and motivated me towards this sport. But for some reason, Justin always kept his eye on his sister’s growing skills in swimming.
“Neither of my parents are swimmers, so it wasn’t necessarily an obvious choice.”
But 6 feet 1, as noted in OZY, thrives not just on land, but also in the water, and once Justin dove in, “it was all over.”
Justin will spend the next two years in quiet training as he prepares to make the cut for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
The games, reveals OZY, will come around the time he hits 20, considered a peak age for male swimmers in the 100- meter challenge.
Pitts in his work uncovers broad shoulder upon which Justin can proudly make his contribution.
African American first in competitive swimming history cites the “Black Splash” researcher include Nate Clark of Ohio State who in 1962 became the first Black to score in an NCAA final. Enithy Brigitha of the Curacao, Netherlands Antilles won two individual bronze medals in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.
Pitts posits that the only swimmers to beat her have since been proven to have used performance enhancing drugs.
In 1981, Charles Chapman became the first African American to swim across the English Channel and in 1982, Chris Silva of UCLA became the first African American swimmer to make a US National Team.
In 1988, Anthony Nesty of Surinam and the University of Florida upset the favored Matt Biondi to become the first swimmer of African heritage to set an Olympic record and win and Olympic gold medal.
In 1997 Stanford’s Sabir Muhammad became the first African- American to break an American record followed by Alison Terry who in 1999 became the first African American female swimmer to make a US National Team. In 2000, Anthony Ervin became the first American swimmer of African descent to make the USA Olympic Swimming Team and win an Olympic gold medal.
Maritza Corriea in 2004 became the first woman to make a USA Olympic Team and in 2005, Genai Kerr and Omar Amr become the first African- American men to make the USA Olympic Water Polo Team.
Three African Americans made history when swimmers Lia Neal, Ervin and Cullen Jones made the cut to compete in the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Justin will be the only minority swimmer on the Cal team as noted in OZY adding that swimming is overwhelmingly white, “perhaps a result of the history of discrimination in access to municipal swimming pools.” The writing adds that the modern-day result “can be tragic” with nearly 70 percent of African American children between the ages of 5 and 14 have little to no swimming ability.
Very much sensitive to and appreciative of his image as a model in this regard, Justin says that, “I think it would be cool to break down these barriers and if I could help bring other minorities into the sport, that would be great.”