1964 Olympic Champion Donna de Varona Receives Olympic Torch Award

Donna de Varona
Donna de Varona in 1964. Photo Courtesy: Swimming World Archive

Donna de Varona, a two-time Olympic champion, award-winning sportscaster and acclaimed athlete advocate, was the recipient of the Olympic Torch Award.

The Olympic Torch Award annually recognizes an individual for his or her positive impact on the Olympic and Paralympic movements. Equal to her incredible feats as a two-time Olympic champion in swimming, Donna de Varona has continued to carry the torch through a lifetime of achievement as a pioneer and champion for women in sports.

de Varona_Donna

Donna de Varona. Photo Courtesy: Swimming World Archive

At age 13 she became the youngest world-record holder to compete at the Olympic Games in 1960, but was not able to compete in her signature event – the 400 IM – because it was not added to the lineup until 1964. de Varona swam on the prelims team for the 4×100 free relay in 1960. Four years later in 1964, she won the inaugural 400 IM Olympic gold medal at age 17 and also swam on the gold medal winning 4×100 free relay team.

Donna de Varona was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1969.

After retiring from competitive swimming at age 17, she became the youngest sportscaster to appear on a national network with her debut on ABC, launching a celebrated career in broadcast television. During ensuing years, she successfully juggled roles as host, co-host, special reporter and analyst at some of ABC’s premier events, including the 1968, 1972, 1976, 1984, 1988, 1996 Summer Olympics and the 1984, 1988 and 1994 Winter Olympics, many times working with legendary sports broadcaster Jim McKay. In 1998 she joined the TNT coverage team at the Nagano Winter Olympics, partnered again with veteran Olympics host Jim Lampley. At the 1984 Los Angeles Games, their late night coverage earned the highest ratings of any Games’ telecast.

Donna de Varona won the Al Schoenfield Media Award in 2001.

Having served five terms on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and as a consultant to the U.S. Senate, she also was a driving force behind the promotion and protection of critical legislation, including Title IX and the Amateur Sports Act of 1978.

The founding president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, she remains a leading advocate for athletes worldwide as a member of the International Olympic Committee’s Women and Sport Commission and Special Olympics International.


  1. avatar
    John Hoskins

    It was an honor to be present when she won her award. I had the pleasure of talking to her numerous times during the meeting. I strongly suggest you get a copy of her speech she gave which was even more powerful.

  2. MK Mahoney

    I worshipped this woman when I was a youngster… Congratulations

  3. Martha Phelan

    Congratulations to a representative of a time when swimming was still “innocent “ and before goggles were used😳…a dedicated advocate for athletes (especially women)…a well deserved honor👊🏻🏊‍♀️🏊🏻‍♂️🏊🏽‍♀️🏊🏽‍♂️