NEW YORK - Fans around the country can help a track and field athlete be named the nation's top "amateur" athlete as world champion Sanya Richards, inspirational ultramarathoner Amy Palmiero-Winters and NCAA cross-country champion Angela Bizzarri were among the 14 athletes announced as semifinalists for the AAU Sullivan Award.
Fans can vote online for the Sullivan Award semifinalists online at USA Today through March 30. Finalists will be announced on or before April 2, with the winner being named on April 14.
Richards the world's best
The world's dominant 400-meter runner in 2009 and the World Athlete of the Year in Athletics, Richards also was the winner of USATF's Jesse Owens Award as the nation's top female track and field athlete of the year.
Richards in 2009 won her first individual world title in the women's 400m and ran the anchor leg on Team USA's gold medal winning 4x400m relay team (3:17.83, World leader). She finished the season with the four fastest women's 400m times in the world in 2009, and her world-leading time of 48.83 seconds from her win in Brussels, Belgium, earned her a share of the IAAF Golden League Jackpot for the third time in her career. Richards' performance in Brussels equaled the second-best time ever by an American first posted by National Track & Field Hall of Famer Valerie Brisco-Hooks in winning the gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
Also in 2009, Richards won her fifth career national title in the 400m, and she won at many of the world's premiere track and field meets, including the Nike Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore. (49.86), ISTAF Berlin (49.57), Oslo (49.23), Rome (49.46), Paris (49.34), Zurich (48.94), Brussels (48.83) and World Athletics Final (49.95).
Palmiero-Winters inspires, makes history
The first amputee ever named to a USA national team, Palmiero-Winters' year was culminated and highlighted by the "Race to the Future" on New Year's Eve, in which she beat all able-bodied male and female finishers. Covering 130.04 miles in the 24-hour race, her performance qualified her for the Team USA roster at the 2010 International Association of Ultrarunners' 24-hour Run World Championship, to be held in Brive, France on May 13-14, 2010.
Competing in no fewer than 10 ultra-distance races on the year, Winters also won the women's division at the Heartland 100 Mile in October, earning USATF Athlete of the Week honors. She became the first amputee to qualify for Western States 100 mile ultra marathon and was the first amputee to run the Mount Washington Race.
Palmiero-Winters is a single mother of two who works as a youth fitness director, coach and motivational speaker. After a 1997 motorcycle accident and 27 surgeries, she had her left leg amputated below the knee. She has subsequently become a single-leg below-the-knee amputee world record holder in over a dozen events (including the marathon and Ironman distance triathlon).
Bizzarri takes NCAA honors
Named the National Cross Country Athlete of the Year by the USTFCCCA, Bizzarri won her first NCAA title in 2009 when she was a surprise winner at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, Indiana. The University of Illinois standout won the national crown in 19 minutes, 46 seconds and took the Honda Award for cross country as well as the Dick Eddelman Award as the University of Illinois' Female Athlete of the Year. Earlier in the year, Bizzarri won the 5,000m at the 2009 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, besting the field by almost 10 seconds with her winning time of 16:17.94. She went on to finish third at the USA Outdoor Championships in 15:33.02.
About the Sullivan Award
The AAU Sullivan Award honors the outstanding amateur athlete in the USA. Presented annually since 1930, the Sullivan also is based on leadership, character, sportsmanship and the ideals of amateurism. Track and field athletes have won the Sullivan Award more than athletes from any other sport. Past winners include National Track & Field Hall of Famers Carl Lewis, Bruce Jenner, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Mary Decker, Michael Johnson, Florence Griffith-Joyner, Rafer Johnson, Frank Shorter and Edwin Moses.
To read more about all nominees for the Sullivan Award, visit http://aausullivan.com/nominate.html . To vote, visit USA Today at http://www.usatoday.com/sports/2009-sullivan-award.htm#uslPageReturn