The AAU James E. Sullivan Award annually recognizes the outstanding amateur athlete whose outstanding athletic accomplishments are complemented by qualities of leadership, character and sportsmanship. Winners achieve great success on a national and/or international stage through competition in collegiate athletics, Olympic pursuit or similar high profile competitions. Presented by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), the AAU Sullivan Award symbolizes the fostering of a community of respected amateur athletes whose example provides a great model to our AAU athletes.
Other aquatic athletes that were named among the 38 semi-finalists were Olympic gold medalist swimmer Lydia Jacoby, Paralympic gold medalist swimmer/triathlete Brad Snyder, and water polo player Maddie Musselman. Musselman was also named a finalist and was in attendance at the
— Maddie Musselman (@maddiemusselman) October 23, 2021
Swimmers have won the award on 12 occasions. In 1944, Ann Curtis, who had won more AAU championships than any other woman, became the first swimmer and first female to win the award. Only track & field (athletics) has won the award more times as a sport.
No water polo player has ever won the award, though divers have won on three occasions: Sammy Lee in 1953, Pat McCormick in 1956, and Greg Louganis in 1984.
While athletes are eligible to win the award more than once, so far that hasn’t happened.
Prior Winners among swimmers:
- 1944 – Ann Curtis
- 1964 – Don Schollander
- 1968 – Debbie Meyer
- 1970 – John Kinsella
- 1971 – Mark Spitz
- 1975 – Tim Shaw
- 1977 – John Naber
- 1978 – Tracy Caulkins
- 1989 – Janet Evans
- 2003 – Michael Phelps
- 2006 – Jessica Long (Paraswimming)
- 2012 – Missy Franklin
The award was shared in 2020 by University of Oregon basketball player Sabrina Ionescu and University of Iowa wrestler Spencer Lee.