PHOENIX, Arizona, February 27. THE history of African-Americans in swimming goes much further back than the 1980s, but when talk turns toward the best black swimmers in the sport, Chris Silva’s name is always in the conversation.
Silva was the first African-American to be named to USA Swimming’s national team, doing so in the mid-1980s. The International Swimming Hall of Fame rightfully named him a “Pioneer,” which only scratches the surface of the impact Silva made in swimming before his untimely death in a car accident in 1990.
Silva was on the cusp of making the 1984 Olympic team, and though he missed out on making the team, he was noted as the first black swimmer to qualify for the Olympic Trials. The year before, he competed at the World University Games, making him the first African-American swimmer to represent the USA internationally. He won a silver there in the 400 free relay.
Though Silva retired after the 1988 Olympic Trials, he continued to work with getting blacks into the sport, and that included an appearance at the 1988 Black History Invitational Swim Meet in Washington, D.C. Silva swam an exhibition 50-yard freestyle in 21.2 seconds, impressing the crowd and making Silva a fan of the young athletes at the meet.
Silva’s impact is still felt today, and we at Swimming World honor his memory in today’s Throwback Thursday video with a look at that swim from the Black History Invitational Swim Meet. Silva is swimming the 50 free in lane four in the race. This is the only video we know of that publicly exists featuring Silva in competition.