Phelps is finalist for Sullivan Award


January 09, 2004|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

In April, the James E. Sullivan Award will be bestowed upon the nation's top amateur athlete.

The fact that Michael Phelps is among the 12 finalists is a bow to the fact that amateur athletics aren't what they used to be.

Phelps, 18, the North Baltimore Aquatic Club swimmer who is expected to do big things at the Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, has been a professional since October 2001.

The Sullivan Award was originated in 1930 by the Amateur Athletic Union, which ran Olympic sports in the United States for much of the 20th century.

"As you can imagine in this day and age [of pros competing in the Olympics], the question comes up, what is an amateur?" said Wade Schalles, an assistant to the president of the AAU. "That definition varies, and we've chosen to allow eligibility to be made by each sport's national governing body. If a swimmer is eligible to go to the world championships, then he's eligible for this award."

Phelps starred at last July's world championships in Barcelona, Spain, posting five of the eight world records he recorded in 2003.

Besides Phelps, this year's finalists include basketball player LeBron James, speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno, Heisman Trophy winner Jason White and women's basketball player Diana Taurasi.

Figure skater Sarah Hughes won last year.

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