By Dr. Phillip Whitten//Contributor | Thursday, March 14, 2019
The 1948 Olympic Games, held in London, were a modest, low-key affair as befits the first Games of the post-World War II era. The victorious Allies, particularly the Americans and Brits were anxious to reignite the flame of international athletic competition, but several of the key players were missing, notably Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union. The USSR had been invited but chose not to attend.
Unlike later Games, at which the United States dominated, particularly in swimming, the 1948 edition saw the medals distributed to a number of swimmers, including standouts from some of the smaller European nations. The USA needed a hero, and into that breach stepped a vivacious 22-year-old, Ann Curtis, of Santa Rosa, California.
Throughout the 1940s, Curtis had been America’s top female swimmer, though athletic competition had taken a backseat to the needs of the US military. She set one world record – 11:08 .6 for the 800 m freestyle – and five American marks, three in short course pools and two in long course.
At the Olympic Games in London, she struck gold in the 400m freestyle, took silver in the 100 and anchored the victorious American 4x100m freestyle relay team, passing the Netherlands’ Johanna Temeulen and Denmark’s Fritze Carstensen for the victory.
For these performances, Curtis was named winner of the James D. Sullivan award, at the time the most coveted award in amateur sports. She was the first woman and the first swimmer to win the Sullivan, which recognizes America’s outstanding amateur athlete. In 1966, she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Deciding not to try out for the 1952 U.S. Olympic team, Curtis retired from the sport, but she opened her own Ann Curtis Swim Club and Ann Curtis School of Swimming to remain connected with the sport that she loved.