Lyle Draves passed peacefully in Northern California on Jan. 12, according to his family. He was 103.
Lyle Draves was the first pure diving coach developing 3 Olympic Champions: Vicki Manalo Draves (his wife), Pat McCormick, Sue Gossick. Vicki was the 1st woman to win the Platform and Springboard at the same Olympics (1948). McCormick followed by becoming the first double, double Olympic gold winner (1952, 1956). Gossick won the Springboard in 1968. Draves coached female divers to 12 Olympic medals and 35 National Championships. His Olympic silver medalists include Paula Jean Myers and Zoe Ann Olsen, each of whom took a bronze. His divers Olympic medal count reads 7 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze.
Lyle Draves was America’s first great diving coach beginning an era when diving coaches could specialize in divers and not coach swimmers too, or vice versa. He was a Hollywood film editor and his show biz background has helped his coaching or again, vice versa since Draves was diving in and then producing, top rated diving water shows before he became a film editor.
An Iowa farm boy, Draves met Fred Cady at a swimming meet in Iowa. Fred invited him to California where Lyle began coaching divers at the Lido Club at the famed Ambassador Hotel and at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. One of his first pupils was a 12 year old girl named Zoe Ann Olsen. Next, they both moved to the Athens Athletic Club in Oakland where he met Vicki Manalo. He later married Vicki, who was given away by 1948 and 1952 platform winner, Sammy Lee. Vicki and Zoe Ann took first and second off the springboard in the 1948 London Olympics. Vicki became the first woman diver ever to win gold medals in both tower and springboard at the same Olympics, narrowly beating Zoe Ann on her last springboard dive. After the Olympics, Vicki and Lyle toured the United States and Europe with Buster Crabbe and Dick Smith.
They quit the tour to raise 4 boys, all divers. Lyle returned to his coaching, first at tennis champion Jack Kramer’s Athletic Club and then at UCLA. His Olympic medal winning divers, in addition to Vicki and Zoe Ann, include Hall of Famers Pat McCormick, Sue Gossick, and Paula Jean Myers. The Draves boys are Acapulco and World Champion high divers who have followed the show biz side of their father’s heritage doing high and trick dives in such places a Magic Mountain, Sea World and Marineland.
A celebrated and acclaimed influence upon the sport of diving, coach Draves helped the U.S. team put a diver on the podium in every Olympic games from 1948 to 1972. His divers brought home seven golds, three silvers and two bronze medals. His first champion was also his wife, Vicki Draves. Vicki became the first U.S. female diver to win two gold medals in the ’48 London Games.
Born and raised as an Iowa farm boy, Lyle Draves was an unlikely candidate to become so drawn to water, according to his family. But Lyle was an athlete, able to tumble and walk on his hands. He gained notoriety in local “Dance-a-thons” where his strategy, fitness and presence helped him earn extra dollars (as well as the attention of the ladies in the crowd.)
Draves life changed when he met Fred Cady at a swimming meet in Iowa. Fred, then the Olympic Diving Coach, invited Draves to California where Lyle began coaching divers at the Lido Club at the famed Ambassador Hotel and at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. One of his first pupils was a 12-year-old named Zoe Ann Olsen. Next, they both moved to the Athens Athletic Club in Oakland where dear friend and then Olympic hopeful, Sammy Lee introduced Lyle to Vicki Manalo.
After seeing Vicki dive, coach Draves confided to Sammy, “She’s got gold written all over her.”
In the 50’s, Lyle and Vicki joined Buster Crabbe and began producing and performing in traveling aquatic shows. Notable celebrities Johnny Weissmuller and Esther Williams often made guest appearances. These shows trekked by train and featured a wooden high-dive pool which needed to be assembled and dismantled for each performance.
By 1952, Lyle and Vicki were expecting their first child and quit barnstorming to settle into the San Fernando Valley. There, they raised four athletic boys, David, Jeff, Dale and Kim.
Lyle returned to his coaching, first at tennis champion Jack Kramer’s Athletic Club and then at UCLA. He was often tapped by Paramount and several other large studios as an aquatic talent scout. A pioneer in training techniques, Coach Draves relied heavily on producing instructional 16mm movies, editing each one by hand.
In 2013, a celebration to honor his 100th birthday was held in Northern California. More than 100 former students and protégé’s attended and several recounted Coach Draves distinctive descriptive style.
Favorite “Dravisms” included:
“Get your hiney over your appetite!” and
“Are you trying to point your toes? Because your feet look like a bouquet of flowers.”
In 2010, Vicki died in Palm Springs and the family moved coach to Northern California.
Coach Draves is survived by four sons, four grand-children and two great-grandchildren.