Obit of the Day: Star of the London Games, 1948 Edition
Pictured above are two of the United States’ greatest Olympic swimmers. On the right is Johnny Weissmuller, five-time Olympic gold medalist* and motion picture star. On the left is Ann Curtis. Although most remember Weissmuller for his turn as Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, Curtis’ achievements have faded over the past 65 years.
But in the 1940’s Ms. Curtis dominated the pool like few before or after her. For five years, from 1943 through 1948, she was the best swimmer, male or female, in the United States. In 1944, when she was only 18 she became the first woman to win the coveted James E. Sullivan Memorial Award. The Sullivan Award is bestowed on the best amateur athlete in the U.S.
Due to World War II international competitions were curtailed. This included the cancellation of the 1944 Olympic Games. At home, though, Ms. Curtis won 34 Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) championships, a record at the time.
In 1948, the Olympics returned and London served as host. During the Games Ms. Curtis won two gold medals: one for the 400m freestyle and one while anchoring the 4x100m freestyle relay. She also earned a silver medal in the 100m free.
Celebrated in her hometown of San Francisco, she was given the key to the city as well as the keys to a convertible. Deciding that marriage and raising a family were a priority, she accepted both gifts, surrendering her amateur status. (Things were very different in amateur athletics in 1948.)
Along with her husband, George Cuneo, Ms. Curtis opened the Ann Curtis School of Swimming in 1959. For a quarter century she coached the swim team, as well as synchronized swimming. She was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1966.
Ann Curtis died on June 27, 2012, exactly one month shy of the return of the Olympic Games to London. She was 86 years old.
(Image of Curtis and Weissmuller from July 5, 1944 is courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library’s San Francisco History Center blog, “What’s on the 6th Floor?”)
Additional source: wikipedia.org
* Weissmuller won three gold medals at the 1924 Paris Games (100m free, 400m free, and 4x200m free relay) and two at the 1928 Amsterdam Games (100m free, 4x200m free relay).