TOKYO (AP) – Coming to the Olympics, Alice Dearing made a huge impact in the debate on how to make swimming a more diverse sport.
She had hoped to continue her efforts with a strong performance in Tokyo Bay, but it was not.
The first black swimmer to make the British team battled for a 19th place finish in the 10-kilometer marathon swim on Wednesday morning.
The breakneck pace of the world’s top open water swimmers caught Dearing off guard, leaving her more than 5½ minutes behind Brazilian winner Ana Marcela Cunha and in tears at the end.
“I have a lot more to give than that,” said the 24-year-old, having beaten just six swimmers on the field.
Dearing has already given the sport a lot by claiming a historic place in the British squad and lending his support behind the ‘Soul Cap’, an oversized headwear designed for natural dark hair.
Global governing body FINA has rejected a Soul Cap approval request for the Tokyo Games, but said it would consider changing that position after further study.
“I just want people to know that no matter your race or background, if you can’t swim just come in and learn to swim,” Dearing said. “Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not for you.”
Despite efforts to increase diversity, swimming remains a largely white sport. The issue has taken on particular importance in the United States, the world’s leading swimming power, since protests erupted across the country last summer over the death of George Floyd and other acts of brutality. policewoman.
A group of current and former black swimmers, including gold medalists Cullen Jones and Simone Manuel, have joined USA Swimming to form Team BLAC, the Black Leadership in Aquatics Coalition.
The group wants to continue their efforts to ensure that more people of color learn to swim, but, more importantly, provide support for black swimmers who are moving up the ranks, to make sure they don’t feel like strangers.
The Soul Cap debate has only heightened the importance of making sure everything from the rulebook to grassroots efforts consider those that go beyond the traditional basics of swimming.
Many thought FINA was out of touch when one of the reasons it banned Soul Cap was that the rubberized coating did not follow “the natural shape of the head”.
Tell that to Dearing, who wanted to wear the oversized beanie to cover her curly, voluminous hair.
“It’s a shame about what happened, but I think FINA and Soul Cap are making the right moves,” said Dearing. “I am very optimistic that it will be better news next time.”
Paul Newberry is an Atlanta-based national writer and sports columnist covering his 14th Olympics. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and his work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
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