COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee today announced the recipients of six annual awards, which will be presented at a celebratory dinner during the 2019 U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Assembly that begins Wednesday, Sept. 11 at The Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Friday (Sept. 13) awards gala will conclude the Assembly, and feature the legendary Jill Ellis, head coach of the world champion U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team as the keynote speaker.

Donna de Varona, a two-time Olympic champion, award-winning sportscaster and acclaimed athlete advocate, was named the Olympic Torch Award honoree, while Youth Olympic fencer May Tieu was selected to receive the Jack Kelly Fair Play Award for her selfless act of sportsmanship during the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018. Five-time Olympian Connie Paraskevin was chosen as the individual Rings of Gold recipient for her inspiring work with the Connie Cycling Foundation, and The Hartford’s Ability Equipped was named the program Rings of Gold recipient for making adaptive sport equipment and opportunities more accessible to athletes of various ages and skill levels nationwide.

Additionally, two National Governing Bodies will be recognized for achievement in diversity and inclusion initiatives. US Speedskating earned the Advancing D&I Award based on the largest growth in diversity metrics among National Governing Bodies and High-Performance Management Organizations during 2017-18, while USA Triathlon was selected by its peers for the second consecutive year as the D&I Choice Award winner for its Historically Black Colleges and Universities Engagement Program.

More than 250 participants are expected to attend the annual gathering, representing U.S. Olympians and Paralympians; NGBs and HPMOs; the Paralympic Advisory Council, Collegiate Advisory Council and Multi-Sport Organizations Council; and USOPC board members, trustees and staff. The event will also include a general address from USOPC Chair Susanne Lyons and USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland, with presentations from NGB Council Chair Max Cobb and Han Xiao, chair of the Athletes’ Advisory Council. 

Delivering the keynote address, Ellis is known for leading an American team that is widely hailed as one of the best in the history of the sport. In 2019, she became the first coach in history to win back-to-back FIFA Women’s World Cup titles, amassing a remarkable 105-7-18 record in her five-plus years at the helm of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team program. After 20 years of service with U.S. Soccer, Ellis announced plans to step down as head coach beginning in October. She will continue as an official ambassador for the organization, but her indelible impact on the success and growth of women’s soccer in the United States will endure well beyond her tenure.

The Olympic Torch Award annually recognizes an individual for his or her positive impact on the Olympic and Paralympic movements. Equal to her incredible feats as a two-time Olympic champion in swimming, de Varona has continued to carry the torch through a lifetime of achievement as a pioneer and champion for women in sports. At age 13 she became the youngest world-record holder to compete at the Olympic Games in 1960, and later won two gold medals at the 1964 Games in Tokyo. After retiring from competitive swimming at age 17, she became the youngest sportscaster to appear on a national network with her debut on ABC, launching a celebrated career in broadcast television. Having served five terms on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and as a consultant to the U.S. Senate, she also was a driving force behind the promotion and protection of critical legislation, including Title IX and the Amateur Sports Act of 1978. The founding president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, she remains a leading advocate for athletes worldwide as a member of the International Olympic Committee’s Women and Sport Commission and Special Olympics International.

The Jack Kelly Fair Play Award annually recognizes an athlete, team, coach or official for an outstanding act of fair play and sportsmanship. Tieu earned the first medal of the 2018 Summer Youth Olympic Games for Team USA – claiming bronze in women’s foil fencing –  but it was her actions off the piste that garnered the most attention. When fellow Youth Olympian, Grace Senyo of Togo, arrived at the venue without foil weapons that could pass inspection, Tieu volunteered one of her own, allowing her opponent to remain in contention. Her act of sportsmanship had a direct impact on Tieu’s path to the podium as she faced Senyo twice in competition.

The Rings of Gold Awards recognize an individual and a program dedicated to helping children develop their Olympic or Paralympic dreams and reach their highest personal potential. A four-time world champion and Olympic bronze medalist, Paraskevin founded the Connie Cycling Foundation to spread the lessons and values she learned throughout her career as an elite athlete. Since its inception in 2005, the California-based CCF has introduced more than 6,000 youth to cycling with an emphasis on age-appropriate instruction and positive coaching experiences. Many CCF riders have advanced to represent USA Cycling at national and international competitions. Bikes are supplied free of charge, helping bring kids and families of all backgrounds and abilities together through cycling while offering opportunities for education, competition and healthy life skills development.

In partnership with Disabled Sports USA, The Hartford’s Ability Equipped program is empowering athletes with disabilities to experience the life-changing power of sport by making adaptive equipment more readily available throughout the U.S. With The Hartford’s three-year $2.2 million contribution, the initiative aims to increase the capacity of community grassroots organizations and bridge the gap to elite sport opportunities by identifying, supporting and empowering the nearly 250 athletes – ages 13-24 – who comprise the DSUSA Elite Team. The program will also donate over $300,000 in equipment grants to more than 120 DSUSA Elite Team athletes competing across all Paralympic sports. Ten of these athletes represented Team USA in five different sports at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019.

The Advancing D&I Award recognizes the National Governing Body or High Performance Management Organization with the highest annual growth percentage of underrepresented individuals based on diversity data for women, and racial and ethnic minorities. US Speedskating led all NGBs and HPMOs with an 8.7 percent increase in membership for women and persons of color from 2017-18. Percentage increases were evaluated based on overall NGB numbers, which includes board members, employees, membership, and national team athletes and coaches. Highlighting the diversity growth for US Speedskating was a 36 percent increase in women and nearly a 15 percent increase in people of color among its professional staff. Additionally, the organization experienced nearly 14 percent growth in national team athletes of color and a 20 percent increase in women’s national team coaches.

Now in its sixth year, the D&I Choice Award recognizes an NGB or HPMO for best practices in advancing diversity and inclusion, as determined by a vote of NGB and HPMO peers. Previously recognized in the same category for its Paratriathlon Military Program, USA Triathlon is making multisport more accessible to persons of color through its HBCU Engagement Program. In October 2018, the USA Triathlon Foundation offered a grant of $225,000 to Hampton University – the first HBCU to commit to adding a women’s varsity triathlon program. With other HBCU’s poised to follow, the program aims to grow the NCAA emerging sport nationally by providing access, education, resources and opportunities within HBCU communities. With a pathway to continue through 2020 and beyond, the program features a set of initiatives to enhance HBCU partnerships on campus, including an internship network, campus student ambassadors and indoor triathlon series events.

2019 Award Winners
Olympic Torch Award: Donna de Varona
Jack Kelly Fair Play Award: May Tieu
Rings of Gold – Individual: Connie Paraskevin
Rings of Gold – Program: The Hartford’s Ability Equipped program in partnership with Disabled Sports USA
Advancing D&I: US Speedskating
D&I Choice Award: USA Triathlon’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities Engagement Program

About the Assembly
The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Assembly was initiated in 2005 to give a voice to the various member organizations of the USOPC; to keep dialogue open between athletes, staff, leadership and members; and to help further the Olympic and Paralympic movements in the United States. The three-day event welcomes more than 250 participants, representing U.S. Olympians and Paralympians; Olympic, Paralympic and Pan American National Governing Bodies; the Paralympic Advisory Council, Collegiate Advisory Council, Multi-Sport Organizations; and USOPC board members, trustees and staff.

About the USOPC
Founded in 1894 and headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee serves as both the National Olympic Committee and National Paralympic Committee for the United States. The USOPC is focused on protecting, supporting and empowering America’s athletes, and is responsible for fielding U.S. teams for the Olympic, Paralympic, Youth Olympic, Pan American and Parapan American Games, and serving as the steward of the Olympic and Paralympic movements in the U.S. For more information, visit TeamUSA.org.