Donna de Varona bigraphy, stories - American swimmer, Olympic gold medalist, former world record-holder, television sportscaster

Donna de Varona : biography

April 26, 1947 -

Donna Elizabeth de Varona (later Donna Pinto; born April 26, 1947) is an American former competition swimmer, Olympic gold medalist, former world record-holder, and television sportscaster. In 1969, she was inducted to the International Swimming Hall of Fame.


Swimming career

In 1960, at age 13, Donna qualified for her first U.S. Olympic swimming team. She already held the world record in the 400-meter individual medley, her signature event, but the event would not be added to the Olympic schedule until the 1964 Olympics. At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy, she swam for the gold medal-winning U.S. team in the preliminary heats of the women's 4×100 freestyle relay, but did not receive a medal because she did not swim in the event final. Four years later at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, after she was well on her way to setting a career total of eighteen world best times and world records she won the gold medal in the women's 400-meter individual medley, besting her competition by a margin of six seconds and setting an Olympic record. She also earned a second gold medal as a member of the world-record-setting U.S. team in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay.

In 1964 after having graced the covers of Sports Illustrated, Look and Life magazines, the Associated Press and United Press International voted de Varona the "Most Outstanding Woman Athlete in the World." However, because women were offered few sports opportunities in American high schools or colleges in the early 1960s, de Varona retired from her sport and began her career in the male-dominated world of sports broadcasting.

Professional life

At the age of 17, she appeared on ABC's Wide World of Sports, becoming the youngest and one of the first women sportscasters for a national network. Her groundbreaking career has earned her an Emmy, two Gracies and the opportunity to cover a wide variety of sports events including 17 winter and summer Olympic games. In 2006, she was inducted into the Museum of Television & Radio's first class of fifty "She Made It" pioneers in media.

While de Varona continued to pursue her television career she also began her work in Washington D.C. as an activist for sports and fitness opportunities for Americas youth. Since her retirement from competitions in 1965 she has served five terms on the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and has been appointed to Presidential commissions under Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush. A consultant to the United States Senate, de Varona took a leave of absence from her pioneering television career to help with the passage of the 1978 Amateur Sports Act which restructured how Olympic sports are governed in the United States. Subsequently she was called back to the Senate to consultant on amendments to the landmark Olympic legislation. Additionally Ms. de Varona worked to promote and safe guard Title 1X of the Equal Education Amendments Act which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational institution receiving Federal funding. Named a special advisor to President Clinton’s Drug Czar, General Barry McCaffrey, de Varona helped with the establishment and funding for both the United States anti-doping agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency which are entrusted with eradicating the use of illegal substances to enhance performance in sport.

A promoter of women in sport, in the mid 1970s, she joined Billie Jean King in establishing the The Women's Sport Foundation. She served as the first President (1979–1984) and subsequently the Chairman and Honorary Trustee for the Women's Sports Foundation. Under de Varona's leadership, the Foundation initiated the Hall of Fame Dinner (now the Annual Salute to Women in Sports Awards Dinner), Travel and Training Grants, research projects, a toll-free telephone number and annual visits to Washington, D.C., to educate Congress about Title IX and the importance of providing sport and physical activity opportunities on an equitable basis. Over the years the foundation has raised more than $30 million dollars to support it’s programs.

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Living octopus

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