The bay area has produced many great Olympic athletes, but if they could all appoint an official ambassador to represent them, Anne warner Cribbs would be the runaway choice. She won a gold medal in the 1960 Rome games as a 15 year-old swimmer, sparking a relationship with the Olympic movement that spanned six decades. Along the way, she set standards as a pioneering women’s sports executive while inspiring countless young girls and boys. Cribbs, born in San Mateo, learned to swim at her Menlo Park neighborhood pool before attending Menlo-Atherton high school and joining the Santa Clara swim club. Coached by the legendary George Haines, Cribbs became a club standout and in 1959 won a gold medal in the 200 meter breaststroke at the Pan American games in Chicago. In Rome the next year, she placed fifth in the Olympic 200 meter breaststroke and earned gold as part of the 4 x 100 medley relay team. In the days before title ix, there were no competitive college women’s swim teams, so Cribbs “retired” from her sport, earned a Stanford degree and worked for the city of Palo Alto before co-founding the American Basketball League that allowed female college stars to pursue professional careers in the sport. The ABL lasted two seasons before its framework was copied by the NBA for its own women’s league. Cribbs then spearheaded bay area bids to host the 2012 and 2024 summer Olympics, efforts that fell short but created a positive cooperative template among northern California cities and counties. This paid dividends when the region, with Cribbs serving as CEO of the bay area sports organizing committee, successfully staged numerous world and national championships in swimming, table tennis, roller hockey, fencing and the multi-sport senior games. Cribbs unabashedly embraced her role as an Olympic evangelist. In 1984, she established a “welcome home” dinner for northern California Olympians, now repeated every four years to provide grant money for local athletes’ training. “The Olympic Games are the way we want the world to be”, was Cribbs manta. Her impact will be felt by future bay area Olympic generations wherever and whenever they compete around the globe.
Inducted into the BAY AREA SPORTS HALL OF FAME – 2016
Narrative by Mark Purdy