Caeleb Dressel Announced as Co-Recipient of James E. Sullivan Award; Shares Honor With Simone Biles

Caeleb Dressel at Friday's Orlando Magic game after he was announced as a winner of the Sullivan Award

Caeleb Dressel Announced as Recipient of AAU James E. Sullivan Award

The James E. Sullivan award recognizes the top athlete in the United States in any sport, and one of this year’s recipients is Caeleb Dressel. Dressel was named a winner of the award at a Friday luncheon, and then he was announced publicly at the Orlando Magic’s evening home game against the New York Knicks.

The 25-year-old from Florida has been considered the top male swimmer in the world since 2017, when he burst onto the international scene with seven gold medals at the 2017 World Championships. Dressel followed that up with six golds and eight total medals at the 2019 Worlds, and at his second Olympics in Tokyo, he won five gold medals. Three of those golds were in individual events (the 100 free, 100 fly and 50 free), making Dressel just the third man (following Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps) to win three individual golds at a single Games. He also led the United States to gold medals in the 400 freestyle and 400 medley relay.

Dressel was one of two recipients of this year’s award, which was the 91st time it was given. Gymnast Simone Biles, who overcame significant mental health obstacles to win two medals in Tokyo, was named a co-recipient of the award. The award was not given in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic while basketball star Sabrina Ionescu and wrestler Spencer Lee were the co-winners in 2019.

Dressel is the first swimmer to win the Sullivan award since 2012, when Missy Franklin won following her four-gold-medal performance at the London Olympics. Previously, Paralympian Jessica Long won in 2006 and Phelps was the winner in 2003 after he won four gold medals at the World Championships and broke world records in four different individual event.


Caeleb Dressel (center) holding his Sullivan Award trophy with AAU President Rusty Buchanan (left) and Vice President Joe Gura

In addition to Dressel, the list of Sullivan award finalists included U.S. Olympic swimming teammate Lydia Jacoby, the 17-year-old who won a stuning gold medal in the women’s 100 breaststroke, as well as Paralympic swimmer-turned-triathlete Brad Snyder. U.S. water polo star Maddie Musselman was also a finalist.

This is the official description for the award, from the Sullivan Award’s official website: “Older than The Heisman (1935), the AAU Sullivan Award honors the outstanding athlete in the United States. It has been presented annually by the AAU since 1930 as a salute to founder and past president of the Amateur Athletic Union, and a pioneer in amateur sports, James E. Sullivan. Based on the qualities of leadership, character, and sportsmanship, the AAU Sullivan Award goes far beyond athletic accomplishments and honors those who have shown strong moral character as well.”

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2 years ago

Congrats Dressel could not have gone to a better swimmer right now you are the best ?

Barbara Ann Stidman
Barbara Ann Stidman
2 years ago

Congratulations Caeleb! What a wonderful prestigious honor, so well deserved. I love following your journey. You represent the USA so wonderfully…we are all so proud of you.

Yuriy Koyfman
Yuriy Koyfman
2 years ago

well done done!!! Congrats!!!

Robert Jones
Robert Jones
2 years ago

Well deserved Caeleb. Not just your ability & mastery of your individual sport; but your humbleness shines through to exemplify all of the Sullivan award’s traits.

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