Click play to hear audio of Ann Curtis swimming the winning leg of the 4×100 freestyle relay in the 1948 London Olympics
Ann Curtis was born in San Francisco in 1926. At the age of 12, she joined a swim team coached by the famous Charlie Sava. Despite being kicked off the team at least once, she persevered and became, as one sports writer put it, an “athletic legend” and a household name throughout America. She was the world’s dominant female freestyle swimmer throughout most of the 1940’s, winning 31 national titles, a record that stood nearly 40 years (broken by Tracy Caulkins in the early 1980s). She came to hold 4 world and 56 American records. She was the first woman and first swimmer to win the Sullivan Award in 1944, a yearly award given to the most outstanding amateur athlete. Her swimming career was climaxed at the 1948 Olympic Games in London, where she captured two gold medals and one silver medal. Ann was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1966 and the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1983. She was Sports Illustrated Female Athlete of the Year as well as one of ANG Newspapers’ 50 Most Significant Bay Area Sports Figures of the Century.
Ann married Gordon Cuneo in 1949, having met the basketball starting forward while attending UC Berkeley. With three children and one on the way, the Cuneos moved from San Francisco to San Rafael, built swimming pool facilities (Gordon built the office, bath house and pump room after work and on the weekends) and opened the Ann Curtis School of Swimming in 1959. While raising five children, she coached a swim team for 25 years, a synchronized team for 12 years, and built the business into the well-known swim school and private swim club that it is today. For the past 52 years, she has provided a valuable service to the community. It is estimated that over 40,000 students have learned to swim at her school, which continues to draw many customers from the broader Bay Area. Celebrated graduates include Rick DeMont (Olympian and world record holder in the ‘70s) and Ben Wildeman-Tobriner (gold medal winner in Bejing, 2008).
Ann’s passion and love for swimming moved her to try to provide the best swim lessons to as many students as possible. She credits her teaching progression to her coach Charlie Sava, although she continued to make improvements to her method throughout the years. Sava also designed the teaching pool, which is shallow throughout and allows the students to practice skill repetition to acquire muscle memory. Her daughter, Carrie, now runs the swim program and is determined to continue to provide the same high quality for which Ann strived.