Shelley Mann, an Olympic gold and silver medalist in the 1956 games in Melbourne, Australia, was a well-known and well-loved Arlington resident.
This article was originally written in 2008 and has been updated by Center for Local History staff in celebration of the 2021 Olympics.
Shelley Man moved to Arlington as a preschooler with her parents, Hamilton and Isabel Mann. She started swimming at age 11 when her parents enrolled her at summer camp to get her involved with other children. Shelley excelled and enjoyed it so much she joined the swim club at Walter Reed Hospital, where Hamilton Mann was stationed.
While at Walter Reed, the team won American Athletic Union indoor and outdoor championships from 1953 to 1956. The AAU was a national network of sports teams that produced dozens of Olympic athletes during the middle of the twentieth century.
She moved to Arlington as a preschooler with her parents, Hamilton and Isabel Mann. She started swimming at age 11 when her parents enrolled her at summer camp to get her involved with other children. Shelley excelled and enjoyed it so much she joined the swim club at Walter Reed Hospital, where Hamilton Mann was stationed. While at Walter Reed, the team won American Athletic Union indoor and outdoor championships from 1953 to 1956. The AAU was a national network of sports teams that produced dozens of Olympic athletes during the middle of the twentieth century.
Though training for several hours a day, Shelley was still an ordinary, though popular, teenager. She attended Thomas Jefferson Junior High and graduated from Washington-Lee High School in 1955.
While a student, Shelley sang in the choir, was a member of the social group the Sub Deb Club, and attended dances, football, and basketball games, and went out to eat with her friends. However, as Shelley's trophies and awards mounted, she became a local celebrity.
In the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, Shelley Mann won the gold medal in the 100-meter butterfly, the first year the butterfly stroke was part of the Olympic program. She was also part of the silver medal-winning 4x100 meter freestyle relay team. Her gold was the only one brought home by an American woman, and one of only two gold medals won by the entire US swim team.
Once Shelley returned to the US, she was a national sensation and claimed as Arlington's own. On December 17, 1956, only home for a few days, Shelley received the key to Washington, DC, and was feted at Washington-Lee High School by Arlington's county board and citizens.
Page from the Olympic Trials program. This was the first year butterfly was included as a swim event, and Shelley Mann is listed here as a record holder.
What About You?
Do you remember Shelley Mann and her swimming exploits? Did you know her? Let us hear from you!
Shelley Mann was my swimming coach at Army Navy CC swim team (Arlington, VA, c. 1962). She taught me all the strokes beyond freestyle, which my dad had taught me (he swam for West Point). I'll always remember her putting me belly down on a diving board and making me do the stroke, and she grabbed my legs and taught me the rhythm of the kick. I swim a couple of miles a week, just got back from swimming tonight–whenever I do breaststroke, I think of her and that lesson. Just found out from your bio that she and I graduated from the same high school!
Charlotte Watson Johnston says
Shelley was one of my best friends during our years at Thomas Jefferson Jr. High where we were on the cheerleading squad (I’ll try to find the cheerleaders’ picture and send it to you later).
A remarkable person, Shelley was not only a Gold Medal Olympic winner, she was a winner in life. Swimming was how she conquered polio, putting one little arm and leg right after the other, struggling all the way until she won. Her family always invited me to swim meets so I could babysit her little sister, Emily. I adored her whole family and was so distressed to learn both she, Emily, and her father, Hamilton Mann, had passed away. Thank you for keeping Shelley’s memory alive.
George Malti says
Shelley was the first person I met at Cornell University in September of 1957. We were both Freshmen who had spent the previous year of our lives traveling around the world, she as an Olympic Champion. Shelley was beautiful, intelligent,and grounded. She was my first college date, and I will always treasure her being in my life for a time. I believe her father and mine shared a career in electrical engineering. What a wonderful woman!