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Remembering Olympic Swimmer Ann Curtis

The winner of two Olympic gold medals and 34 United States championships passed away in her San Rafael home in late June. Anyone from Novato take lessons from her?

There is so much talk right now about Michael Phelps' place in Olympic history. Greatest swimmer of all time? Greatest Olympic athlete? What about just plain-and-simple greatest athlete? Who could discount his 15 gold medals?

But all this chatter brings home memories of one of our own Olympic heroes, Ann Curtis Cuneo. 

Back when she was known as Ann Curtis, there was some "greatest ever" buzz around her as well. The Olympic gold medalist, who died in June at the age of 86 in her San Rafael home due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease, remains ranked as one of the greatest female swimmers of all time.

But in addition to winning two Olympic golds in the 1948 Games in London and 34 U.S. championships, Curtis became known locally for her swimming school in San Rafael. Over the decades, the school has served approximately 40,000 students, the Marin Independent Journal reported.

"She wanted to provide the best swimming lessons to as many people as possible, that was her passion," her daughter, Carrie Cuneo, told the Marin IJ. "That the business survived financially was a side point."

Curtis competed in the Olympics the last time they were in London in 1948, following a 12-year break due to World War II. Born in 1926 in San Francisco, Curtis already won eight national titles and broken 18 national records by the time she went to London, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

At the Games, she won a gold in the 400-meter freestyle, a gold in the 4x100-meter relay and a silver in the 100-meter freestyle.

A year after winning her medals, she married Gordon Cuneo and the couple had five children. She opened the in 1959. Her former students include Olympians Rick DeMont and Ben Wildman-Tobriner.

Marin swim coach Warren Lager took lessons from Curtis and he described her to the Marin IJ as having a "a regal bearing."

"When she walked the deck, that was her place. And to be honest, even now, at 57 years old, even into full adulthood I was always in awe of her," he told the Marin IJ.

{Do you have photos of Ann Curtis? Share them by clicking the upload button above.}

Robert J. Cleek August 03, 2012 at 02:04 AM
Yea, when I was in grammar school in the City, our swimming teacher was a fellow named Charlie Sava, for whom the Charles Sava Pool at Larsen Park (formerly Larson Pool) is named. He was Ann Curtis' coach throughout her racing career. My parents were friends of Sava's and swimming was a big deal for them. While a competent and strong swimmer, I never was fast enough to be a contender in serious competition. My brother, on the other hand, was gifted in the sport, qualified for the nationals and earned a swimming scholarship to Stanford, thanks to Charlie Sava's great coaching. Charlie Sava sent us over to Ann Curtis' home a few times for specialized instruction (exactly what, I can't remember, being a little kid at the time.) I think as much as anything, he wanted us to meet and get to know her. We didn't have a car at the time, so we'd take the Greyhound from the City to our cousins' in San Anselmo and then drive over from there. I remember Ann Curtis (she was married then, but all I ever heard Charlie call her was "Ann Curtis) as a youngish lady who was very friendly and outgoing to us kids. I think that our being coached by her coach merited special attention. The times we swam in her pool, I don't remember anyone else being there but us and Ann Curtis. This would have been somewhere around 1959 or 1960, I'd guess. She always had a great reputation as a swimmer, but also among those who knew her as a really nice person.
Robert J. Cleek August 03, 2012 at 02:16 AM
I'll add that the full frame of the second picture in the slideshow above shows Charlie Sava with Ann Curtis. The fourth picture of Ann Curtis diving at a start was taken at Fleishacker Pool in San Francisco, located between the Zoo and the beach on Sloat Boulevard. Her accomplishments were particularly remarkable because she had to train at Fleishacker Pool, which wasn't exactly all that pleasant. Now filled in, it was in its day the largest enclosed swimming pool in the country at 1000 feet long and 150 feet wide. It was filled with salt water directly from the ocean and it was rumored it was heated, but I never detected that! It also would grow disgusting brown algae blooms in summer, which left this foamy brown scum on the surface. It also "enjoyed" the worst weather in town, being fogged in most mornings. I taught swimming there summers with the Red Cross and it wasn't fun, except for the Red Cross "donut dollies" they'd send out with hot chocolate and donuts and packaged sandwiches for us. (Hot chocolate never tastes better than when your lips are blue!) We sure were glad when the City opened the much smaller freshwater indoor Larsen Pool on 19th Avenue and the Red Cross moved the summer swimming lesson program there.

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