Neal places fifth and Saunders places 10th in USOC Athlete of Year voting

By Gary Abbott | Feb. 15, 2000, 12 a.m. (ET)

The U.S. Olympic Committee has announced the top 10 finishers in the voting for the 1999 SportsMan, SportsWoman and Team of the Year balloting.

1999 World Freestyle Wrestling Champion Stephen Neal (Bakersfield, Calif./Dave Schultz WC) placed fifth in the voting for the 1999 USOC SportsMan of the Year.

1999 World Women's Wrestling Champion Tricia Saunders (Phoenix, Ariz./Sunkist Kids) placed 10th in the voting for the 1999 USOC SportsWoman of the Year.

Saunders becomes the first wrestler ever to place in the top 10 of the voting for the SportsWoman of the Year since the USOC began announcing its top 10 placewinners in 1990.

The 1999 USOC SportsMan of the Year was cyclist Lance Armstrong. The 1999 USOC SportsWoman of the Year was swimmer Jenny Thompson. The 1999 USOC Team of the Year was the Women's Soccer Team. The awards will be presented at a USOC banquet sometime in the spring.

Two-time Olympic Champion John Smith is the only wrestler to win the USOC SportsMan of the Year when he was honored in 1990. No woman wrestler has ever won the USOC SportsWoman of the Year, nor has a wrestling team received the USOC Team of the Year.

Neal was the 1999 World Champion at 286 pounds, the top U.S. wrestling performance in 1999. He was competing in his first World Championships event. His performance led the United States to a strong second place team finish.

Neal defeated two-time World bronze medalist Andrei Shumilin of Russia in the gold-medal finals, 4-3. He won five matches on the way to the title - and was competing in his first World Championships.

He won a gold medal in every tournament he entered in 1999, and ended the season with an 18-1 freestyle record. Neal was the 1999 Pan American Games champion and defeated 1998 World Champion Alexis Rodriguez of Cuba in the gold medal finals, 8-7.

Neal also won his first career gold medals at the 1999 Freestyle World Team Trials and the 1999 U.S. Nationals. He was named Outstanding Wrestler at the U.S. Freestyle National Championships, after defeating veteran Tom Erikson in the gold medal finals. At the World Team Trials, Neal stopped 1998 World Team member Kerry McCoy in the best-of-three series. Neal was also the 1999 University Nationals freestyle champion.

He was also the 1999 NCAA Div. I champion for Cal-State Bakersfield, his second straight NCAA title. He was the winner of the 1999 Dan Hodge Trophy, awarded by W.I.N. magazine to the best college wrestler.

Neal now serves as an assistant wrestling coach at Cal-State Bakersfield. He is originally from San Diego, Calif.

Saunders was the 1999 World Champion at 101.25 pounds, her fourth career World Championships gold medal. Only one other U.S. wrestler has ever won a single Women's World title (Sandra Bacher). Her performance helped lead the United States to its first-ever Women's World Team title.

It was her fifth career World Championships medal, setting the U.S. record for most World medals. She defeated five-time World Champion Xiue Zhong of China in the finals, 4-2, in overtime. Saunders won four matches on the way to the title.

Saunders ended the 1999 season with a perfect 10-0 record. She was also the 1999 Women's World Team Trials champion, qualifying for her ninth U.S. World team. Saunders also claimed the 1999 U.S. Nationals title, her ninth career nationals title, also a U.S. record.

The U.S. Women's World Wrestling Team was among the nominees for Team of the Year, but did not place in the top 10 of the voting.


1. Lance Armstrong, cycling, 1,039 pts. (59 first place votes); 2. Maurice Greene, track and field, 400 pts. (5); 3. Andre Agassi, tennis, 348 pts. (5); 4. Lenny Krayzelburg, swimming, 215 pts. (3); 5. Stephen Neal, wrestling, 121 pts. (3); 6. Blaine Wilson, gymnasatics, 89 pts.; 7. Mark Ruiz, diving, 81 pts.; 8. Gary Payton, basketball, 59 pts. (3); 9. (tie) Jay Hakkinen, biathlon, Kasey Keller, soccer (1) and Michael Weiss, figure skating, 42 pts.


1. Jenny Thompson, swimming, 598 pts. (27); 2. Michelle Akers, soccer, 548 pts. (21); 3. Serena Williams, tennis, 418 pts. (10); 4. Michelle Kwan, figure skating, 265 pts. (6); 5. Lisa Fernandez, softball, 195 pts. (4); 6. Inger Miller, track and field, 112 pts. (3); 7. Marla Runyan, U.S. Blind Athletes Assoc., 93 pts. (1); 8. Karen Smyers, triathlon, 77 pts. (2); 9. Tara Nott, weightlifting, 69 pts. (1); 10. Tricia Saunders, wrestling, 65 pts. (1)

1999 USOC TEAM OF THE YEAR 1. Women's Soccer, 952 pts. (58); 2. Cycling, 349 pts. (8); 3. Softball, 238 pts. (3); 4. Rowing, 218 pts. (2); 5. Track and Field, 127 pts. (2); 6. Bobsled, 110 pts. (2); 7. Basketball, 93 pts. ; 8. Boxing, 88 pts. (1); 9. (tie) Baseball (1) and Skiing (1), 65 pts.