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Donna De Varona: 1947—: Olympic Swimmer, Sportscaster, Activist

Won Two Gold Medals Before Twenty

Initially, de Varona wanted to play Little League baseball, like her beloved older brother David. She loved the game so much that in elementary school, she chose the desk closest to the door so she could be the first one out on the field when the bell rang to signal the end of class.

However, because she was a girl, and Little League was only open to boys at the time, she was barred from any position other than "bat girl." She quickly became bored with spending her time at every game on the sidelines. As she told Marty Benson in the NCAA News, "Being that close and not being able to play hurt too much." When David injured a knee and switched to swimming, she followed him to a new sport. de Varona's ability in the pool was readily apparent, since even as a young child, she had always been a strong swimmer. She entered her first meet when she was nine, and soon outgrew her father's coaching, becoming a protege of some of California's best coaches. She specialized in the difficult 400-meter medley, in which competitors swim four laps, each in a different stroke: freestyle, butterfly, breast stroke, and back stroke. In 1960, when she was 13, she qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in that event. She was the youngest member of the American team that year, and loved the excitement of traveling to Rome with the other athletes. Unfortunately, her event was canceled and she did not compete.

During high school, de Varona trained up to six hours a day, but managed to maintain a B average in her studies. In 1964 she qualified for the Olympic team again, and won a gold medal in the 400-meter medley. As a member of the 400-meter freestyle relay team, she then won another gold medal.

At a Glance . . .

Born Donna de Varona in April of 1947, in San Diego, California; daughter of David and Martha de Varona; married John Pinto (a lawyer and investment banker); children: John David, Joanna. Education: University of California-Los Angeles, BA, political science, 1986.

Career: Swimmer, 1960-64; ABC, Wide World of Sports, Olympics broadcaster, 1968, 1972, 1976; NBC, Sports World, Today Show, broadcaster, 1978-83; commentator, consultant, writer, coproducer, contributor: Wide World of Sports, ABC News, Good Morning America, ESPN, ABC radio, 1984; Roone Arledge, president of ABC News and Sports, ABC, assistant, 1983-86; NBC, Olympics, broadcaster, 1996, 2000; Sporting News Radio, radio sports commentator, 1998–; Sporting News, Olympics reporter, 2002.

Selected awards: Winner of 37 U.S. swimming championships, 1960-64; gold medals in swimming, Pan-American Games 1963; gold medals, 400-meter medley and 400-meter freestyle relay, Olympic Games, 1964; Associated Press and United Press International Most Outstanding Female Athlete, 1965; Emmy Award, 1991; Gracie Award from American Women in Radio and Television, 2000, 2001; Susan B. Anthony "Trailblazer" Award, 2001; inductee: International Swimming Hall of Fame; U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame; Women's Sports Hall of Fame.

After setting 18 world swimming records, de Varona retired from competitive swimming in 1965. She retired largely because she was now in college at the University of California-Los Angeles, and the school, like most other universities at the time, had no athletic programs for women. With bills to pay de Varona had to spend her spare time working, and she began looking around for work that would use her interest in and knowledge of sports. Undeterred by the fact that at the time, all the sportscasters on the major television networks were male, she used her Olympic experience to her advantage, and became the first female broadcaster on the ABC network's Wide World of Sports. After graduating from college, she decided to make a career in broadcasting.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Theodosius I to David Watmough Biography - David Watmough comments:Donna De Varona: 1947—: Olympic Swimmer, Sportscaster, Activist Biography - Won Two Gold Medals Before Twenty, Became A Reporter And Activist, Clashed With Abc, Controversy Over Title Ix