Curtis, Ann (1926—)

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Curtis, Ann (1926—)

American swimmer. Name variations: Ann Curtis Cuneo. Born Ann Elisabeth Curtis in Rio Vista, California, on March 6, 1926; daughter of Florence Gertrude (Donohue) and Marvin Curtis, Jr.; married Gordon Cuneo (a basketball star), in 1949; children: four.

First woman to swim 100 yards in less than a minute (59.4 seconds); set four world freestyle records and 18 American records; won 31 national championships; won a gold in the 400 meter, a gold medal in the relay, and a silver in the 100 meter in the 1948 London Olympics; first woman to win the James E. Sullivan Memorial Trophy.

When Ann Curtis first entered the 1943 AAU girls' freestyle, no one took much notice of the 11-year-old swimmer. Taught to swim at the Sisters of the Ursuline Convent in Santa Rosa, she had not had professional coaching. But the young Curtis surprised everyone by winning the race, in the first of what would be many triumphs.

Charlie Sava, the famous West Coast coach of champion swimmers, invited Curtis to train with him at his Crystal Plunge pool. The regimen was tough—three miles of swimming each day with no time off on Sundays. To develop her leg power, he threaded a rope through a pulley above the pool; one end of the rope was lashed to her ankles, the other to a nine-pound weight. For 30 minutes each day, she kicked against this restraint, cutting through the water without using her hands. Two months later, Sava felt she was ready for competitive swimming.

At 17, Curtis won her first national championship in Shakamak Park, Indiana, setting records in both the 400- and 880-yard freestyle. She continued to shatter national records in the next 11 consecutive meets she entered. In 1944, a year after winning her first national championship, Curtis won the James E. Sullivan Memorial Trophy, the first woman to do so.

In subsequent years, she continued to set records—4 world freestyle and 18 American. With a 59.4 time, Curtis became the first woman to swim 100 yards in less than a minute. She won 31 national championships. In the 1948 Olympics in London, she won a gold in the 400 meter, a second gold in the relay (setting a new Olympic record of 4:29.2), and a silver in the 100 meter.

After Ann Curtis retired from swimming competition in 1949, she married Gordon Cuneo, a basketball star, and had four children. Founder of her own swim club, Curtis taught a new generation the many skills she acquired during her career, including what came to be known as the "Curtis crawl."

Karin L. Haag , Athens, Georgia