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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 July, 2004, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Swimmer breaks new ground
CORREIA FACTFILE
Maritza Correia
Age: 22
Nickname: Ritz
Born: Puerto Rico
Parents: From Guyana
Started swimming: Aged 7
Maritza Correia has become the first black woman to qualify for the US Olympic swimming team.

She finished fourth in a trial to book a place in the 400m freestyle relay team for Athens.

Correia said she wanted to be a role model for minorities, hoping her success would open up a sport which is dominated by white swimmers.

"I'm amazed, I'm shocked, I'm happy. It's a great honour - I hope I'm one of many," she said.

Correia is only the second black swimmer to make a US Olympic team, following Anthony Ervin.

He tied with team-mate Gary Hall Jr for gold in the 50m freestyle at the 2000 Sydney Games, then retired earlier this year.

Anthony Ervin
Ervin won gold at Sydney in 2000
Ervin, who has a white mother, downplayed his race. "I don't look black," he said.

But Correia, who was fourth in the 100m freestyle trial in California, hopes she can help encourage more black swimmers.

"I don't think it's the main focus, but if I can use it to my advantage, I will," she said.

"It's really hard for minorities to get the facilities. It's a very expensive sport. My goal is to get more pools built."

Her vision is shared by Olympic team-mate Lenny Krayzelburg, a triple gold medallist at Sydney who has his own foundation that hopes to bring the sport to more inner-city children.

"Let's face it - swimming is a middle and upper-class sport," he said.

"You have to practice five hours a day. When you're 12 years old, you don't have a car. You've got to have someone who can drive you to practice, pick you up, maybe wait around all day.

"Your family has to have some financial flexibility so you can do it."

It was a bumpy road but I stuck with it
Maritza Correia
Correia started swimming as a seven-year-old when a doctor suggested the sport could help with her scoliosis, a curvature of the spine.

Her path to Olympic qualification has been a long one, but she turned down the chance to swim for her native Puerto Rico, preferring the more difficult US trials.

She competed in three events at the 2000 trials, but did not come close to making the team.

Until her latest success, her greatest achievements had been in relays, where she felt less pressure helping her team-mates, rather than swiming for herself.

"My career has been very slow. It was a bumpy road, but I stuck with it," she said.





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