Donna de Varona: Medley Extraordinaire, Swimming Sportscaster, and Women’s Activist

Hello swimming enthusiasts!


Today I am back to offer you a closer look into another inspiring female swimmer, Donna de Varona. De Varona was the youngest athlete at the 1960 Olympic Games, set long-standing world records in the 400-meter individual medley and 100-meter backstroke during her career, and became the television network ABC’s first full-time female sports broadcaster after her swimming career ended.


Born in San Diego, California in 1947, Donna de Varona first had an interest in little league baseball. However, she was denied a place on the team because she was female, and she later drew on this experience to fuel her work for gender equality. Through her trips to the pool with her injured brother, who swam for physical therapy, de Varona soon found that swimming was a great outlet for her energy. She had the opportunity to train with some of the best coaches in the sport as a teen, including George Haines, the coach of seven U.S. Olympic teams.


At the age of thirteen, de Varona qualified for the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. Although she gained attention due to her young age, her event was ultimately cancelled and she did not compete. But de Varona was not one to quit. Over the next four years, she took home thirty-seven national swimming championships and set eighteen world records. When she returned to the Olympic Games in 1964, the United Press International and Associated Press declared her the most distinguished female athlete in the world.


Donna de Varona ended her swimming career after the 1964 Olympics, at the age of seventeen. At the time, most colleges did not have a women’s athletics department, and the University of California, Los Angeles was no exception. However, de Varona never truly left the sport. Instead, she emerged on the other side of it, as a sports broadcaster. She debuted her career with ABC in 1965 as a commentator for the Wide World of Sports with Jim McKay.


Donna de Varona was always an advocate for women’s rights, especially in sports. In 1998, when ABC failed to renew her contract, she filed a $50 million lawsuit, claiming that male veteran sportscasters were prioritized. In addition, de Varona fought to pass Title IX in 1972, a law that prohibits gender discrimination in sports. She and the tennis champion Billie Jean King co-founded the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1974.


Therefore, Donna de Varona is exemplary in her strides as an athlete, a sportscaster and a women’s activist.



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