By Tarrah J. Smith
(Courtesy of USA Swimming)
ORLANDO, Fla., Jan. 17. THE Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) has announced the names of the fourteen finalists for the 72nd Annual AAU James E. Sullivan Memorial Award which recognizes the top amateur athlete in the nation.
Among the finalists is Natalie Coughlin (Concord, Calif./Carondelet HS/Univ. of California, Berkeley), the 2001 world champion in the 100m backstroke and a multiple world and American record-holder.
In 2001, Coughlin was named the NCAA's Swimmer of the Year after her performance winning three individual titles at the Championships as a freshman for California-Berkeley. She also was named female
"American Swimmer of the Year" by Swimming World magazine.
Coughlin's most recent honor came last December, when she set world records in the short course 100m (57.08) and 200m (2:03.62)backstrokes at the FINA World Cup meet in East Meadow, NY.
In 1989 Janet Evans won the award, making her the ninth — and last — swimmer to earn the honor. Ann Curtis was the first swimmer to win, doing so in 1944. Other swimming honorees were: Don Schollander (1964), Debbie Meyer (1968), John Kinsella (1970), Mark Spitz (1971), Tim Shaw (1975), John Naber (1977) and Tracy Caulkins (1978).
The other 13 finalists are Tony Azevedo (waterpolo), Michelle Kwan (figure skating), Matt Lindland (wrestling), Stephen Lopez (taekwondo), Ryan Miller
(hockey), Toccara Montgomery (wrestling), Brandon Paulson (wrestling), Mark Prior (baseball), Jason Reed (rowing), Sean Townsend (gymnastics), Allen Webb (track and field), Angela Williams (track and field), and Roy Williams (football).
Narrowed from a field of 30 nominees, the first-round finalists will be reduced to five athletes and their names will be released in mid-March. From the five names, the National winner will be formally recognized in early April.
The award, given to the outstanding amateur athlete in the United States, is based on qualities of leadership, character, sportsmanship and the ideals of
amateurism. Both athletic accomplishment and strong moral character are considered by an 800 member panel consisting of the AAU board of directors, the U.S. Olympic Committee board of directors, the AAU Sullivan Committee, past Sullivan Award winners, and a select members of the sports media. Considered the "Oscar" of sports awards, the AAU James E. Sullivan Award has been presented to prominent athletes of our time including last year's recipient Olympic gold medalist, wrestler Rulon Gardner.
The AAU James E. Sullivan Memorial Award has been presented annually by the AAU since 1930 as a salute to 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.