Caeleb Dressel, Simone Biles Named Co-Winners of 2021 AAU Sullivan Award

American swimmer Caeleb Dressel and American gymnast Simone Biles were recognized as co-recipients of the AAU Sullivan Award for 2021. The award is given to an evolved version of the “top amateur athlete in the United States” every year, using a loose definition of “amateur,” given that both Dressel and Biles made millions of dollars in 2021.

The AAU says that they have refocused their approach to just the ‘top athlete’ of the year in order to accommodate Olympic athletes, and now NCAA athletes, who are in many cases are no longer amateurs.

This is the 3rd-straight year in which the AAU has announced co-winners.

Dressel was announced as the co-recipient during halftime of the Orland Magic game on Friday night, where they were losing by 30 points to the New York Knicks. Biles was recognized earlier in the day at a luncheon. She is currently in Indianapolis as part of the GoldOverAmerica Tour with other American gymnasts and wasn’t able to attend the ceremonies in person.

Dressel also wasn’t at the luncheon, where his award was accepted by his attorney.

The 25-year old Dressel won 5 gold medals at the Tokyo Olympic Games, bringing him to 7 total Olympic titles.

Biles, meanwhile, won a silver medal in the team event and a bronze medal on balance beam. She withdrew from most of her events after coming down with a case of the “twisties” (read more here), sparking a national conversation about athletes and mental health.

The award’s criteria say that it “goes far beyond athletic accomplishments and honors those who have shown strong moral character.”

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

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.


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Let’s Go Brandon!
1 year ago

I’m old enough to remember when winning the Sullivan Award was a prestigious accomplishment. Today? Meh, not so much anymore. Similar to the decline in the Pulitzer where each spring five or six people sit around in the living room of an Upper East Side brownstone and decide who’s been “virtuous.”

That said, congratulations to Caeleb Dressel!

"I was watching Squid Game"
1 year ago

Just glad Ryan Murphy didn’t get it…Guess we were just raised differently.

1 year ago

So meaningless award… got it.

Reply to  Rap
1 year ago

It used to mean a lot but for me giving it to Biles in 2021 is the death blow.

1 year ago

How could biles be the best when she withdrew

Reply to  click
1 year ago

They are redefining the award for media hits. Stupid. No denying Bilas is the GOAT, but not in 2021. Katie Ledecky, Sunisa Lee, Sydney McLaughlin, Athing Mu all better candidates. If you are going for the feel good then give it to Alyson Felix. All at least won a gold medal.

Just give the trophy to the condors already
Reply to  click
1 year ago


Reply to  click
1 year ago

Getting very tired of Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka. They stunk up 2021, esp. Osaka given how many major tournaments there are.

A Swimmer
Reply to  Tony
1 year ago

And they’re getting very tired of you.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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