NEW YORK, N,Y., March 18. NATALIE Coughlin, who enjoyed one of the most astounding years in the history of sport in 2002, finished behind figure skater Sarah Hughes in the balloting for the 73rd Annual James E. Sullivan Memorial Award that recognizes the "top amateur athlete in the nation."
The award was presented tonight at the New York Athletic Club in New York City.
Hughes was the upset winner of the women's figure skating solo event at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Coughlin, a junior at the University of California, was one of five finalists for the honor along with Olympic gold medalist and Apolo Anton Ono (short track speed skating), Cael Sanderson (wrestling) and Chris Waddell (Paralympic skiing and track and field). The Sullivan Award finalists were selected based on their qualities of "leadership, character, sportsmanship and the ideals of amateurism in 2002."
Coughlin was also a Sullivan Award finalist last year and finished behind skating’s Michelle Kwan.
Coughlin did not attend the ceremony as she is in Auburn for the 2003 NCAA Championships where she is vying for her third consecutive NCAA Swimmer of the Year honor.
In 2002, Coughlin dominated her sport like no other swimmer has in decades, breaking four world, 12 American and six NCAA records. Her record-breaking ways began last March at the 2002 NCAA Championships, where she captured the 100 (49.97) and 200-yard backstroke (1:49.52) and 100-yard butterfly (50.01) and was named NCAA Swimmer of the Year. Coughlin rewrote the American and NCAA records she had set the previous year in those events as a freshman. The NCAA Swimmer of the Year award was also her second straight after being honored as the top collegiate swimmer in the nation her freshman year, as well.
After the collegiate season, Coughlin showed her strength on both national and international stages. At the 2002 U.S. Summer Nationals, held in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Aug. 12-17, Coughlin shattered the 100-long course meter backstroke record with a time of 59.58. She became the first female to ever post a sub-minute finish in that event. She also broke an American record in the 200m back (2:08.53), the oldest U.S. mark on the books. In all, Coughlin captured five events at the championships to become the first swimmer since 1978 to win five national titles at one meet.
From there, Coughlin competed at the 2002 Pan Pacific Championships in Yokohama, Japan, Aug. 24-29, where she won six medals and set the American record in the 100m freestyle (53.99), becoming the first U.S. woman and the second female in history to break 54 seconds in the event. Coughlin won four gold medals at the championships, one for each of her individual events, tying Australian Ian Thorpe with the most overall medals.
Coughlin earned several impressive honors in 2002. Last April, she was named the Pac-10 Swimmer of the Year for the second-straight season. A three-time USA Swimmer of the Month honoree in 2002, Coughlin was named the USA Swimming Athlete of the Year and earned the ConocoPhillips Performance of the Year award in September.
At the FINA World Cup, held in East Meadow, N.Y. Nov. 22-23, Coughlin smashed three world and four American records. In just two days, she broke the 100-short course meter back (56.71), 100m individual medley (58.80) and 100m fly (56.34). She also broke the American record in the 50m back (27.08). Less than a month later, Coughlin was named the 2002 Female World Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World magazine.
The records continued to fall as Coughlin broke American and NCAA marks at the Auburn Invitational, Dec. 5-7. She broke the American/NCAA record in the 200 free (1:42.65) and then destroyed the oldest American record on the books in the 200 fly with a time of 1:51.91. That mark bettered former Cal standout Mary T. Meagher's American and U.S. Open record of 1:52.99, set Apr. 8, 1981, by over a second.
Considered the "Oscar" of sports awards, the AAU James E. Sullivan Award has been presented to many prominent athletes, including last year's recipient, Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan. Others include: Chamique Holdsclaw (1998), Peyton Manning (1997), William
"Bill" Bradley (1965), Dan Jansen (1994), Janet Evans (1989), Jim Abbott (1987), Jackie Joyner-Kersee (1986), Greg Louganis (1984) and the late Florence Griffith-Joyner (1988).
The AAU James E. Sullivan Memorial Award has been presented annually by the AAU since 1930 as a salute to the founder and past president of the AAU, and a pioneer in amateur sports, James E. Sullivan. The winner of the AAU Sullivan Award receives a bronze replica of the original trophy that depicts the figure of a runner carrying a laurel branch mounted on a black pedestal.