Wainwright, Helen

Helen Wainwright born New York 15 March 1906, daughter of John Wainwright of Lancaster, England, bricklayer, who emigrated to New York in 1888. As a 14 year old schoolgirl she travelled to Antwerp to compete in the 1920 olympic games. In 1923 she travelled to UK for swimming competitition. Returned to the UK in 1924 and 1930. In the 1930s she became a swimming coach on cruise liners out of New York

Helen E. Wainwright (March 15, 1906 – October 11, 1965), also known by her married name Helen Stelling, was an American competition diver and swimmer who represented the United States at the 1920 Summer Olympics and 1924 Summer Olympics. In 1920 she won the silver medal in the women’s 3-meter springboard competition. Four years later, she won the silver medal in the women’s 400-meter freestyle event.

Wainwright was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1972. She remains the only woman to ever win Olympic silver medals in both swimming and diving. This Miss Wainwright accomplished in Antwerp at the 1920 Olympics with a silver medal in the three meter springboard, and in Paris at the 1924 Olympics with a silver in the 400 meter freestyle. Before, during, and after these two occasions, she won 19 gold medals as a U.S. National champion — twice in diving and 17 times in swimming. L. de B. Handley called her the world’s fastest swimmer. Helen also won the Pentathlon designating her the top all-round U.S. woman swimmer.

Her Olympic (relay) and national gold medals were turned in to the government while her husband was overseas in World War II, but Helen Wainwright’s silver and bronze Olympic and National medals are on display at the Hall of Fame.

She first came to the UK in May 1923 with her fellow Olympians Gertrude Ederle and Aileen Riggin. They were intending to compete in various competions as well as look at swimming the Channel but they ran foul of the Amateur Athletics Union rules, which bannned them from the races so they turned around and sailed back to the USA. She spent some time in the UK either before or after competing in the 1924 Paris olympics but made no attempt on the Channel. In 1925 she was first selection to swim the Channel, with Ederle as back-up. They were sponsored by the Women’s Swimming Association. Wainwright pulled out of the trip at the last minute with a leg injury and Ederle made the trip on her own, failing in her attempt. Wainwright and Ederle announced they would return in 1926 but Wainwright again pulled out – Ederle made the trip and became the first woman to swim the Channel. Wainwright returned to the UK in 1930 but swimming the Channel doesn’t seem to have been on her agenda

Prior to Gertrude Ederle’s immortal channel swim, all three of the 1924 Olympians, Wainwright, Riggin and Ederle, played the famed Hippodrome and then after the Channel, toured the USA playing the biggest theaters with a portable tank.

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