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The Women’s Sports Foundation Honors Top Female Athletes at 33rd Annual Salute to Women in Sports in New York City

New York City, NY (October 17, 2012) – Tonight at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City, the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) honored the most accomplished women in sports and the girls they inspire with veteran sports broadcaster and former professional tennis champion Mary Carillo as the host of the 33rd Annual Salute to Women in Sports Awards Gala. WSF Founder Billie Jean King, WSF President Laila Ali, celebrity fitness trainer Jeanette Jenkins and Academy Award-winning actress Holly Hunter were among the high-profile attendees alongside notable athletes such as Missy Franklin (Swimming), Marlen Esparza (Boxing), Michelle Kwan (Figure Skating), Annika Sorenstam (Golf), Carli Lloyd (Soccer) and Allyson Felix (Track & Field).

“The tenacity, dedication and passion of the athletes and advocates at this event are an absolute inspiration. It is because of these individuals – newbies and veterans – that we continue to use our role in sport to foster social change and redefine the world’s perception of what women and girls can and cannot do,” said Women’s Sports Foundation Founder, Billie Jean King. “Tonight we salute those individuals who rise to the top of the sports world and whose positive influence inspires future generations to make sport and fitness an integral part of their everyday lives.”

The Foundation’s 33rd annual fundraising gala opened ceremoniously with the Grand March of Athletes. Host Mary Carillo and two-time soccer World Cup Champion, Julie Foudy led some of the world’s most talented female athletes across the stage as attendees applauded their extensive accomplishments. The Grand March culminated onstage with a rousing tribute to the 30 London Olympians and Paralympians in attendance. The 2012 Games marked an important milestone for women in sports, as it was the first time in modern history the U.S. Olympic team consisted of more female athletes than male. The golden performances by U.S. women at the Games also accounted for 58 percent of the total medal count by Team USA. The evening’s event also celebrated the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark legislation which ensures equal access to both boys and girls in federally-funded educational programs and activities, as well as the influential work of the Women’s Sports Foundation, the voice of women in sports that creates leaders by providing all girls with access to sports and fitness.

“The Annual Salute to Women in Sports is an unforgettable evening that truly embodies our inspirational work,” expressed Women’s Sports Foundation CEO, Kathryn Olson. “These athletes help us raise awareness and dollars for our work to ensure every girl has the opportunity to play.”

Laila Ali, Women’s Sports Foundation President and world champion boxer, took the stage with two young girls from the Foundation’s award-winning curriculum and sports education program, GoGirlGo!. GoGirlGo! has reached close to one million girls and provided more than $5.6 million in funding to girl-serving organizations that support sports and physical activity programming.

The 33rd Annual Salute to Women in Sports was co-presented by espnW and Gatorade®. Event sponsors included Proctor & Gamble’s Olay®, Pantene® and Cover Girl® brands.

Award recipients at the Women’s Sports Foundation’s 33rd Annual Salute to Women in Sports included:

Alex Morgan, Winner of the Sportswoman of the Year Award (Team Sport)
U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team forward Alex Morgan was awarded the prestigious Sportswoman of the Year Award for a team sport, given to an individual athlete in a team sport who exhibits exceptional performances over a 12-month time span. Morgan had an extraordinary year and proved to be an indispensable part of the U.S. Team at the 2012 Olympic Games where she scored the winning goal in the semifinal match against Canada in the third and final minute of extra time at the end of the second overtime period, sending the United States to the gold medal match against Japan. It was the latest goal ever scored in a FIFA competition. In the final, a 2-1 win against Japan, Morgan assisted on a Carli Lloyd header for the first U.S. goal. Morgan scored three goals and had four assists in her first Olympic Games, also scoring twice against France. As the Team begins preparation for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, U.S. fans are looking forward to watching Morgan continue to be a force on the international stage as the No. 1-ranked U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team looks to reclaim the World Cup trophy in North America.

Past winners include Abby Wambach, Venus and Serena Williams, Jessica Mendoza and Mia Hamm. This year, the winner was selected based on a total score collected by the public and the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Awards Committee. Public votes were captured via the Women’s Sports Foundation website, www.WomensSportsFoundation.org.

Gabrielle “Gabby” Douglas, Winner of the Sportswoman of the Year Award (Individual Sport)
Gabrielle Douglas received the prominent Sportswoman of the Year Award for an individual sport, given to an individual sport athlete who exhibits exceptional performances over a 12-month time span. After helping the U.S. to team gold at the 2011 World Championships in October, Douglas won the gold medal on the uneven bars in March at the 2012 Pacific Rim Championships, where she also helped the USA to the team title. In June, she won the gold medal on the uneven bars, silver medal in the all-around and bronze medal on the floor exercise at the 2012 Visa Championships. Just a few weeks later, Douglas won the all-around title at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials – Gymnastics, earning an automatic spot on the women’s Olympic Team. Following that stellar performance, Douglas quickly became a household name during the 2012 Olympic Games. Douglas was an integral part of the effort to win the team gold medal at the London Olympic Games, where the USA easily won the team title and became known as The Fierce FiveSM. The 16-year-old from Virginia Beach, Virginia, is just the fourth U.S. woman and the first African-American to win the coveted Olympic all-around title.
Past winners include Yani Tseng, Erin Popovich, Natalie Coughlin, Michelle Kwan and Gail Devers. This year, the winner was selected based on a total score collected by the public and the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Awards Committee. Public votes were captured via the Women’s Sports Foundation
website, www.WomensSportsFoundation.org.

Kayla Harrison, Winner of the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award
Kayla Harrison is an American female judoka who fell in love with the sport when she was introduced to it by her mother to learn self-defense. A practicing martial artist since the age of six, she transitioned to judo at the age of 13. After demonstrating both a passion and immense talent for judo at a young age, she moved away from her home in Ohio at age 16 to begin training in Massachusetts. At the junior level, she won nearly every domestic event in which she competed. A two-time national champion before the age of 18, Harrison became the third U.S. athlete ever to win the Junior World Championships in 2008. In 2009, she also became the first athlete to receive the Rusty Kanokogi Fund for the Advancement of U.S. Judo grant, administered by the Women’s Sports Foundation, to continue her judo competition at the elite level. At the 2011 World Judo Championships in Paris, she earned a bronze medal. Four months prior to the 2012 Olympic Games, Harrison was injured during training, tearing a medial collateral ligament. She was undeterred by this setback, and despite the pain she forged ahead and won in London, reaching her goal of becoming the first American – male or female – to win an Olympic gold medal in judo. Through her athletic achievements and her decision to speak publicly about the sexual abuse she endured from a former coach, Harrison has become a mentor, role model, and inspiration.

The Wilma Rudolph Courage Award is presented to a female athlete who exhibits extraordinary courage in her athletic performance, demonstrates the ability to overcome adversity, makes significant contributions to sports and serves as an inspiration and role model for others. This award was first given in 1996 to Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Last year, the Visa Women’s Ski Jumping Team received the award.

Birch Bayh, Winner of the Billie Jean King Contribution Award
The Billie Jean King Contribution Award, which recognizes an individual or group that demonstrates a continuing, lasting commitment and dedication to the growth of sports, fitness and physical activity for women and girls, was awarded to Title IX pioneer, Birch Bayh. The former United States Senator from Indiana (1962-1981), has had a distinguished career as a public servant advocating for women’s rights, authoring both the Equal Rights Amendment, which passed Congress but fell short of state ratification, and Title IX of the Education Amendments, which for the first time prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex at American high schools and colleges.

Prior to Senator Bayh’s landmark Title IX legislation, gender discrimination was still rampant at our schools – in the classrooms, faculty rooms, and on the playing fields. Today, he is known as the “Father of Title IX” for his efforts that forever changed the lives of American women not only in collegiate and professional sports, but in academia as well. Title IX – which turned 40 this year – led to a dramatic rise in the numbers of women who receive college degrees in all academic disciplines. The impact of Senator Bayh’s activism, commitment and passion to equal opportunities for girls and women to participate in physical activities is still evident today.

Lianna Thomas, Winner of the 2012 ANNIKA Inspiration Award
Seventeen-year-old competitive figure skater Lianna Thomas was the recipient of the ANNIKA Inspiration Award, presented by Annika Sorenstam. The award is given by the Women’s Sports Foundation in collaboration with the ANNIKA Foundation to an exceptional young female athlete.
Thomas, who has been intensely training since the age of nine, received gold at the 2011 State Games of America in San Diego, California, as a junior single skater. Dedicated, committed, and searching for a new challenge, she transitioned to pair skating. After just six months of training, Thomas and her partner medaled at U.S. Figure Skating Eastern Sectionals and qualified for the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating National Championships. Throughout her life, Thomas has been no stranger to adversity, adopted as an infant in China by her U.S. family, Thomas felt compelled to give back to her community by drawing from her own life experiences. In 2009, she founded Ice Pandas to introduce skating to girls adopted from China with the goal of improving their self-esteem and confidence. Thomas was recognized with the 2011 Presidential Bronze Award for Service, awarded by the U.S. Government to honor Americans meeting a high standard of commitment to volunteer service. By combining her love for sports with her desire to serve her community, her excellence on and off the ice serves as an inspiration to us all.

About Women’s Sports Foundation
The Women’s Sports Foundation, founded in 1974, is the leader in promoting sports, health and education for girls and women. With Billie Jean King as its founder and ongoing visionary, the Women’s Sports Foundation continues to have a profound impact on female athletics, from its vigorous advocacy of Title IX legislation to providing grants and scholarships, grassroots programs for underserved girls, and groundbreaking research. An agent for change, the foundation has relationships with more than 1,000 of the world’s elite female athletes and is recognized globally for its leadership, vision, strength, expertise and influence. For more information, visit www.WomensSportsFoundation.org or KeepHerInTheGame.org. Follow the Foundation at www.Facebook.com/WomensSportsFoundation or on Twitter (@WomensSportsFdn).