Meany, Helen (1904–1991)

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Meany, Helen (1904–1991)

American diver . Born on December 15, 1904; died on July 21, 1991.

Participated in the Olympics (1920, 1924, and 1928); won a gold medal in springboard diving at the Olympics in Amsterdam (1928); won 17 national AAU diving championships for the New York Women's Swimming Association; her career ended when she appeared in a water show unsanctioned by U.S. Olympic Committee.

Athletic competition used to be a more haphazard affair. When American diver Helen Meany participated in the 1920 Olympics, there was no Olympic Village, athletes stayed in hotels, the YMCA, or makeshift accommodations, and swimming and diving took place in a moat that encircled the city of Antwerp. Because the summer of 1920 was cold and rainy, the water temperature was only about 60°; one swimmer fainted as she entered the water, and the American water polo team refused to compete. A group of American swimmers then formed a team and, though they knew nothing about polo, played against a foreign team. They pulled competitors under water, stood on their shoulders, and generally clowned around. The referee could barely contain himself.

Although Meany did not medal in 1920, she returned for the 1924 games in Paris, where the American swim team performed exceptionally well. Following the diving competition, at which she again did not medal, some Parisian fans requested an exhibition. A platform was rigged up on a derrick next to the Seine, and two ladders were provided for Meany to climb. Though the platform was 40' higher than she had ever dived and the river unknown, Meany performed three dives to the delight of the crowd.

Helen Meany journeyed to Amsterdam for the 1928 Olympics. In those days, divers reported for the competition at 1 pm, but were not told when their turn might come. Though Meany spent five tense hours in anticipation, she won the gold medal in springboard diving, with Georgia Coleman and Dorothy Poynton finishing second and third. Women's swimming and diving was dominated by the Americans, and no one was surprised by the sweep.

Although Helen Meany was the only American female diver to be invited to a three-day meet in Tokyo held in honor of Princess Chichibu 's wedding, her career as an amateur was terminated when she appeared in a Miami Beach watershow with Johnny Weissmuller, Pete Desjardins, and Martha Norelius (two-time 400-meter freestyle gold-medal winner). During that time, Olympic athletes were required to maintain amateur status, and all events they entered had to be sanctioned by the Olympic Committee, as the watershow had not been. It would be decades before this policy changed. Helen Meany was later inducted into the Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame and the Citizens Savings Hall of Fame Athletic Museum.

sources:

Carlson, Lewis H., and John J. Fogarty. Tales of Gold. Chicago and NY: Contemporary Press, 1987.

Soderberg, Paul, et al., eds. The Big Book of Halls of Fame in the United States and Canada Sports. NY: R.R. Bowker, 1977.

Karin L. Haag , freelance writer, Athens, Georgia

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