If there’s one word that I had to use to describe myself, I would have to say persistent, Davis said. “Swimming has taught me that success is definitely a choice and failure is never, ever final if you use it as fertilizer for future success.
- Byron Davis. Not only was he one of the nation’s top swimmers who just missed making the 1996 Olympic team, but he remains a role model for thousands of young student-athletes across the country.
- Front Line Leadership!
Byron Davis, the former American record-holder was three-tenths of a second shy of becoming the first African-American to make the Olympic team.
Byron Davis has always set lofty goals for himself. He has been a role model for African-American athletes – not just swimmers – since he burst onto the high school and college swim scene.
His race brought more attention at the 1996 Olympic Trials. For Davis, his race was irrelevant to what he was trying to accomplish.
“It comes with the territory, and I knew [my race] came with the territory, and accepted it,” Davis said. “It is a sad commentary where society was [when I was swimming] –and still is in many ways – that my race is still making news. I was an African-American in a predominantly white sport. I never allowed myself to think that I had the weight of an entire community on my shoulders…that if I failed, I failed a whole race of people. It wouldn’t have been fair or appropriate to take on that kind of pressure.
“I recognized I was a role model, and I enjoyed being a role model. I think I embrace that more than anything. There is nothing wrong with being a role model as long as people understand all humans make mistakes. I think my passion, hope and prayer for life in general came through. Martin Luther King once said that he wanted people to judge him not by the color of his skin but the content of his character.”
“It’s all been part of life’s journey for me. If I had to do it all over again I think I would have bet on my God-given ability earlier in my career. I would have taken bigger risks. Who knows what might have happened?”
At the 2000 Olympic Trials, Davis was among a half-dozen or so athletes who had a shot at breaking the race barrier at the Sydney Games.
Swimming is one of the last athletic frontiers for the African-American athlete. African-Americans have not been much of a force on the U.S. swimming scene. None had even qualified for the Trials before 1964.
To see an African-American standing on the medal stand at the Olympic Games would go a long way toward attracting more minority swimmers, most coaches and athletes agree.
This is still important in America, even though other swimmers of color from around the world have been successful on the sport’s grandest stage.
A few African-Americans in the colorless world of swimming admit to feeling extra pressure.
“Yeah, I felt the pressure [of being a black role model], but it’s something that I didn’t try to think about when I was swimming,” Muhammad said. “I just swam and stayed focused.”