DONNA DE VARONADonna de Varona
Board Member

Donna de Varona was appointed to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee board of directors and will begin serving as an athlete at-large representative in January 2021.

A two-time Olympic champion, de Varona began her career as a swimmer, and at age 13 she became the youngest world record holder to compete at the 1960 Olympic Games. She returned to the Olympic stage four years later in Tokyo, where she set an Olympic record in the women’s 400-meter individual medley and aided Team USA’s world-record-setting performance in the women’s 4x100-meter freestyle. For her historic achievement, she was named the most outstanding female athlete in the world by both the Associated Press and United Press International in 1964.  

After setting a combination of 18 world records and fastest times, she retired from competitive swimming at the age of 17 in 1965. That same year, she became one of the first female and the youngest sportscaster to appear on a national network with her debut on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, paving the way for women in sports journalism and broadcast television. She went on to cover 18 Olympic Games, serving as an on-air analyst, commentator, host, writer and producer. 

Her impact extended beyond the broadcast booth as she dedicated her time to five terms on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and served as a consultant to the U.S. Senate. There, she was a driving force behind the promotion and protection of critical legislation, including Title IX and the Amateur Sports Act of 1978. These two pieces of legislation – one prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded educational program or activity, and the other restructuring how Olympic sports are governed in the United States – deeply impacted generations of Olympic and Paralympic athletes, and women in particular. Her work also notably included assisting in the establishment and funding for both the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency. 

In the mid-1970s, de Varona joined Billie Jean King in establishing the Women’s Sports Foundation and served as the organization’s first president and chair from 1979–1986. She remains a leading advocate of women and athletes worldwide, having served on the International Olympic Committee’s Women and Sport Commission. In 2020, she was appointed to the IOC ‘s Communications Commission. She is the founder and advisor for the Women Athletes Business Network mentoring program and has served as a member of Special Olympics International since its inception.

In 2000, the IOC recognized her with its highest honor, the silver Olympic Order, and she was also named a Lifetime Achievement Award recipient of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition in 2019. A member of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame, she was inducted into the Seneca Falls Women’s Hall of Fame and International Swimming Hall of Fame, and in 2003, was named the Theodore Roosevelt Award winner by the NCAA Honors Committee. She has been the recipient of six honorary doctorates. In 2019 she was recognized by the USOPC as the Olympic Torch award recipient for outstanding service to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movements.