The list of finalists for the 87th Annual AAU Sullivan Award reads like a Who’s Who from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Six of the seven athletes were crowned Olympic champion last August in Brazil.
Water polo goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson, shooter Ginny Thrasher, wrestler Kyle Snyder, judoka Kayla Harrison and gymnasts Laurie Hernandez and Aly Raisman were joined by volleyball player Lauren Carlini on the ballot, which is open to public voting at aausullivan.org. Voting closes March 22 at 11:59 p.m. EST. The award will be presented April 11 at the New York Athletic Club.
The Sullivan Award has been presented annually since 1930 to the nation’s outstanding amateur athlete. Among the past recipients are legendary Olympians such as Wilma Rudolph, Mark Spitz, Bruce Jenner, Janet Evans, Michael Phelps, Shawn Johnson and Missy Franklin.
Here is a look at the six Olympians on this year’s ballot and their achievements:
Kayla Harrison, Judo – Harrison became the first American judoka, male or female, to not only win an Olympic gold medal (2012), but also to successfully defend the title with her gold medal in the 78 kg. division in Rio. A three-time tournament champion last season, she finished the year ranked No. 1 in the world.
Laurie Hernandez, Gymnastics – As a member of the “Final Five,” Hernandez helped Team USA successfully defend its team gold medal at the Rio Games, a first for the nation. Second in the all-around at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, she also earned an individual Olympic silver medal on balance beam, continuing a string with at least one American earning a beam medal in eight of the nine Olympic Games since Kathy Johnson won the first beam medal, a bronze, in Los Angeles. Hernandez also won the 23rd season of “Dancing with the Stars.”
Ashleigh Johnson, Water Polo – The first African-American woman to compete for the U.S. Olympic Water Polo Team, Johnson was a brick wall in goal, helping Team USA became the first to repeat as Olympic women’s water polo champion. Johnson was named the top goalkeeper of the Olympic tournament after making 51 saves in Brazil. She also posted 45 saves as the U.S. took the World League Super Final for the third consecutive year. She was named the Women’s Sports Foundation Sportswoman of the Year in the team division.
Aly Raisman, Gymnastics – Captain of the 2012 and 2016 Olympic teams, Raisman played a crucial role in Team USA’s first successful defense of an Olympic team gold medal. Silver medalist in the individual all-around in Rio, she also took silver on floor exercise, becoming the first American to medal on floor in consecutive Olympic Games. Her six career Olympic medals are second only to Shannon Miller, whose seven medals make her the most decorated American gymnast at the Games.
Kyle Snyder, Wrestling – Snyder gave a preview of his performance in Rio by defeating North Carolina State’s two-time defending NCAA champion Nick Gwiazdowski in overtime in what wrestling observers called the greatest NCAA heavyweight final. The Ohio State product then became the youngest American to win Olympic gold by taking the 97 kg. title in Brazil. The freestyle world cup champion went 4-0 in dual meets for Team USA.
Ginny Thrasher, Shooting – It’s hard to imagine a more successful year than the one Thrasher had. At the age of 19, she won Team USA’s first gold medal of the Rio Games, taking the women’s 10-meter air rifle title. Competing for West Virginia University, Thrasher became the first freshman to sweep the NCAA individual air rifle and smallbore titles while leading the Mountaineers to the team championship. She also won bronze at the World Cup Final.