NEW YORK - Natalie Coughlin, a 19-year-old sophomore swimmer at Cal, was one of five finalists for the 72nd Annual AAU James E. Sullivan Memorial Award that recognizes the top amateur athlete in the nation. The award was presented to skating’s Michelle Kwan at the ceremony at the award’s new presentation site, The New York Athletic Club, Tuesday night in New York City.
Coughlin (swimming) was a finalist along with Michelle Kwan (skating), Mark Prior (baseball), Sean Townsend (gymnastics) and Alan Webb (track and field). The finalists were selected based on their qualities of leadership, character, sportsmanship and the ideals of amateurism in the year 2001.
“It is great to be among these athletes,” said Coughlin. “Seeing all of their accomplishments, it is an honor to have the opportunity to be a part of the Sullivan Award.”
In her most recent competition March 21-23 at the 2002 NCAA championships in Austin, Texas, Coughlin was simply spectacular in earning NCAA Swimmer of the Year honors for the second year in a row. She won three individual national titles, breaking NCAA, American and U.S. Open records in all three events. Coughlin won the 100 backstroke (49.97, first woman to swim under 50 seconds), the 200 backstroke (1:49.52) and the 100 butterfly (50.01). She also broke the NCAA, American and U.S. Open record in the 100 freestyle, swimming a time of 47.47 as the lead-off leg of the Bears 400 freestyle relay.
In her brief career, Coughlin has set two world records, 24 American records, is a two-time NCAA Swimmer of the Year, has won six individual NCAA titles and was recently named the recipient of the 2001-02 Honda Sport Award Winner for swimming.
“Being a finalist for the Sullivan Award is an honor for Natalie, the University and the sport of swimming,” said Cal head coach Teri McKeever. “It acknowledges her collegiate and international successes over this past year. Natalie is not only a world-class athlete, she is a quality individual and someone who epitomizes the spirit of a true student-athlete.”
Considered the “Oscar” of sports awards, the AAU James E. Sullivan Award has been presented to prominent athletes, including last year’s recipient, Olympic golf medallist Rulon Gardner. 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.