Donna de Varona

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Donna de Varona
Donna de Varona 1961.jpg
Donna de Varona in 1961
Personal information
Full nameDonna Elizabeth de Varona
National teamUnited States
Born (1947-04-26) April 26, 1947 (age 71)
San Diego
Height5 ft 6 in (1.68 m)
Weight134 lb (61 kg)
StrokesFreestyle, individual medley
ClubSanta Clara Swim Club

Donna de Varona Pinto (born April 26, 1947), née Donna Elizabeth de Varona, is an American former competition swimmer, Olympic gold medalist, former world record-holder, and television sportscaster.


Swimming career[edit]

At age 13 in 1960, de Varona qualified for the U.S. Olympic swimming team. She already held the world record in her signature event, the 400-meter individual medley, but the event would not be added to the Olympic schedule until the 1964 Olympics. At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, De Varona swam for the U.S. team in the preliminary heats of the women's 4×100 freestyle relay, but she did not receive a gold 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. She defeated the second place finisher by a margin of six seconds and set 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.[1]

De Varona graced the covers of Sports Illustrated, Look and Life magazines. In 1964, the Associated Press and United Press International voted de Varona the "Most Outstanding Woman Athlete in the World."[2] In the early 1960s, women were offered few opportunities to coach sports in American high schools and colleges. De Varona retired from swimming and began her career in the male-dominated world of sports broadcasting.

Professional life[edit]

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.[1] 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 America's 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 consult on amendments to the landmark Olympic legislation and eventually worked to promote and safeguard Title IX 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 sports.

A promoter of women in sport, in the mid-1970s, she joined Billie Jean King in establishing the Women's Sports Foundation. She served as the first President (1979–1984) and subsequently, became the chairman and Honorary Trustee for the Foundation. Under de Varona's leadership, the Women's Sport 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 to both men and women. Over the years, the Foundation has raised more than $30 million to support its programs.

From 1997 to 1999, de Varona chaired the organizing committee for the Women's World Cup Soccer Tournament. Recognized as the most successful women's sporting event in history, de Varona, a U.S. Olympic Hall of Famer, is a recipient of the Olympic Order, the highest honor presented by the International Olympic Committee. In 1999, Sports Illustrated for Women ranked her on its list of the "100 Greatest Athletes." She has also been awarded five honorary doctorates and in 2003, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Honors Committee awarded her the Theodore Roosevelt Award.

In the fall of 2007, de Varona completed a documentary as a host, writer, and producer. This was done in observation of the 35th anniversary of Title IX, which was the legislation that outlawed discrimination in school programs, including sports. The CSTV documentary, which won a Cine Golden Eagle Award, focused on the impact of Title IX and how one recipient of a sports scholarship in America has been influential in changing attitudes and customs in the Middle East as well as within the International Olympic Committee. The program featured Morocco's Minister of Sports, Nawal El Moutawakel, who in 1984 became the first Muslim and African woman to win an Olympic gold medal, and in 2012 was elected Vice President of the International Olympic Committee.

She was inducted to the International Swimming Hall of Fame as an "Honor Swimmer" in 1969.[2] In 2003, de Varona was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.[3] She also serves on the distinguished Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC), which recommends subjects who appear on U.S. postage stamps. She is a 1986 graduate of UCLA and the mother of two children: Joanna Pinto and John David Pinto.

De Varona serves on the Executive Board of Special Olympics International and is a member of the International Olympic Committee's Women and Sports Commission. She is also a board member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame and serves as an adviser to Jordan's Prince Feisal's Generations for Peace Foundation and Tony Blair's Beyond Sport Initiative. Most recently, de Varona was appointed to the United States Department of State's Empowerment of Girls and Women through Sports Council by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She is also President of DAMAR Productions, a marketing, consulting and events advisory company.

Personal life[edit]

In 1986, De Varona graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Her younger sister is actress-director Joanna Kerns, who played Maggie Seaver on the ABC sitcom Growing Pains.[1]

She is a member of the 'Champions for Peace' club, a group of more than 90 famous elite created by Peace and Sport, a Monaco-based international organization placed under the high patronage of H.S.H Prince Albert II.

Biographical Timeline[edit]


Bachelor of Arts, Political Science, 1986

University of California Los Angeles, California, USA

Honorary Doctorate, Received from the Following Institutions:

·        Springfield College, Springfield, Massachusetts

·        Drury College, Springfield, Missouri

·        St Joseph’s College, New York, New York

·        Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio

·        Niagara University, Lewiston, New York

·        United States Sports Academy, Daphne, Alabama

Career (non-sport)[edit]

Production Assistant, Warner Brothers’ film “The Candidate” starring Robert Redford, 1971-1972

Marketing/PR, Warner Brothers film studio in Burbank Calif, 1971-1972

PR Executive, Hermes’ New York office, 1974–75

Actor, “Fighting Back, a Dino De Laurentiis Film, 1982

Appointed to President Carter’s Commission on the Status of Women in the U.S.

Board Member:

·        Girl Scouts of America, 1980’s

·        Fogdog, Sports Apparel Online Company, 2000-2004

·        Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee USA, 2004-2018

·        Essilor Foundation, 2012-2015

·        International Women’s Forum Leadership Foundation, 2017-2019

President, DAMAR Productions Inc., 1976–present

Career (Athlete)[edit]

Swimmer, Pan American Games:

·        Sao Paolo 1963: Won gold 400 free relay, and gold 400 medley relay

Olympic Games:

·        Rome 1960: Member of Team USA, winning gold in the 400 Free Relay; swam in the prelims

·        Tokyo 1964: Won gold medal and set Olympic Record in the 400 Individual Medley; won gold medal and set World Record in the 400 Free Relay

Over the course of illustrious swimming career, set 18 world records and fastest times, captured 37 national swimming championships, and featured on the covers of Life, Post and Sports Illustrated twice.

Sports Administration[edit]

·        Appointed to 5 Terms on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport, 1965-1984

·        Board Member, International Special Olympics International, 1968-2018

·        Member, Vice President Humphrey’s Operation Champ for Inner-city Programs, 1966-1968

·        USO Volunteer to Vietnam, 1969

·        Testified before Senate-House Committees on Sport, 1974

·        Appointed President Ford’s Commission on Olympic Sport, 1974-1976

·        President and Founding Board Member Women’s Sports Foundation, 1974-1986

·        Consultant to the United States Senate on Olympic and Educational Sports Issues, 1976-1978

·        Advisor, Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, 1980-1983

·        Advisor, IOC Congress in Baden for German Olympic Organizing Committee to Work with Athletes, 1981

·        Chairman, Government Relations Committee for USOC Board of Directors, 1982-1986

·        Assistant to ABC Network Sports and News Chairman Roone Arledge, 1983-1988

·        Chairman, Women’s Sports Foundation, 1986-1998

·        Member, USOC George Steinbrenner Commission on Olympic Sport, 1988

·        Board Member, FIFA Men’s World Cup Board of Directors, 1992-1994

·        Chairman, FIFA Women’s World Cup, 1997-1999

·        Consultant to Drug Czar Barry McCaffery for USADA, 1999-2002

·        US Government Representative to WADA, 1999

·        Speaker, Clinton School of Public Policy, 2002

·        Ambassador and Founding Member, Prince Feisal Generations for Peace Initiative, 2002-2003

·        President Bush Appointee to Opportunity in Athletics Commission, 2003

·        Member, US Soccer Foundation Board, 2000-2004

·        Consultant, International Softball Federation, 2003-2009

·        Consultant, New York City Olympic Games Bid Committee, 2003-2005

·        Chairman International Swimming Hall of Fame, 2004-2017

·        Consultant, Chicago Olympic Bid Committee, 2007-2009

·        Founder and Lead Advisor, EY Women Athletes Business Network, 2011-2019

·        Sec. of State Hillary Clinton Appointee, “Empowerment of Women through Sport Initiative,” 2007

·        Appointee to President Bush, Senators McCain and Stevens initiative “Opportunity in Athletics” Committee with NBC Chairman Dick Ebersol and former US Olympic committee Chairman Harvey Schiller

·        Advisor, LA Olympic Games Bid Committee, 2016-2017

·        Lead advisor, All Women’s Aurora Games Festival, 2017–present

Publications and Media Reporting[edit]

Producer, writer, and broadcaster throughout decorated career with ABC (1965-1976), NBC (1978-1983), and ABC again (1984-1998; 2002-2004).

1965: Hired by ABC to report on swimming events

1968: Book titled the “Donna de Varona Story” published

1968: Expert reporter for ABC’s swimming coverage of the Mexico Olympics

1972: Creator/host for San Francisco affiliate profiles on local Olympians

1973: Commentator during FINA World Swimming Championships in Belgrade,Yugoslavia

1974: Featured subject in first women’s TV network sports documentary on ABC, “The Lady is a Champ”

1974-1976: Sports reporter for ABC New York local news station

1976: Hosted “On the Road to the Montreal Olympics,” profiles of local Olympians on ABC affiliate

1977: CBS Sports contributor for 60 Minutes special report on East Germany’s “Red Machine”

1977: New York Times editorial on the East German swimming team

1978: Hosted NBC special covering Diana Nyad’s first attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida

1978: NBC reporter for “Games People Play”

1978-1983: NBC host/analyst for “Sports World”

1979: NBC co-host of “Olympic Diary with Bruce Jenner”

1979: NBC reporter on professional football stories, and covered Super Bowl

1980s: Reporter for “Survival of the Fittest”

1980: NBC coverage of Moscow Olympic Games (did not attend due to Cold War boycott)

1980: Reporter for NBC “Today Show,” and named first female co-host of a late night show

1984: Author of book “Hydro Aerobics”

1984: ABC reporter during Sarajevo Winter Olympics

1984: Host, analyst, and reporter for Olympic Trials as well as boxing

1984: First woman to co-host ABC Olympic late night coverage and serve as expert commentator on swimming, host for synchronized swimming, and interviewer of Olympians

1985: ABC reporter for Super Bowl pre-game coverage

1985-1986: Reporter for ABC coverage of the Ironman in Hawaii, Indy 500, NYC Marathon, and Grand Prix in Monaco

1986: ABC Co-Producer, writer, and host of “Little Girls All Grown Up” featuring Mary Lou Retton, Nadia Comanechi, and Olga Korbut

1986: Host and writer for ABC network while covering all-female attempt to summit Mt. Everest

1987: Reporter for America’s Cup in Perth, Australia

1988: Co-producer, writer, and host of Emmy-nominated “Keepers of the Flame;” donated to IOC library

1990: Writer, host, and interviewer for ABC Special, “Nadia Returns to Romania”

1990-1991: Host and writer for ABC coverage of the Iditarod

1992: Reporter for ABC radio during Winter Olympics in Albertville, France

1994: Co-creator/producer and host of “A Passion to Play,” ABC’s featured stories of women in sport

1994: ABC News lead reporter for Lillehammer Winter Olympics

1994: Wrote New York Times editorial on March 18, “Women’s Fight for Sports Equality Begins Again”

1995: Contributor to documentary on Kerrigan/Harding story

1996: Co-host of Good Morning America during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics

1998: Host and reporter on TNT during coverage of Nagano Winter Games

1998-2006: Radio host and writer of Gracie Award-winning “One on One Sport,” a news commentary program on all sports

1999: Authored July column, “Why the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Was a Success”

2000: Penned New York Times editorial: “Bidding on the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games”

2000: Reporter for NBC’s coverage of the Sydney Olympics

2002-2004: Reporter for ABC Sports

2003: Author of a chapter in “Soccer and Society” book titled “The 3 M’s in Football”

2004: Producer, writer, and host of CBS documentary on Title IX; won Golden Eagle award with a focus on Nawal El Moutawakel

2004: Writer of commentaries for “Around the Rings and Inside Sports” and other publications

2014: Author of Variety article on Sochi Winter Games as well as 3 stories in Greenwich Times about cheating in sports

2015: Inside the Games publication writer of “A message to FIFA”

2016: Wrote memoir-style piece for Variety magazine titled “A Look Back on My Broadcasting Career” 2017: Author of article on the World Economic Forum site about the EY Women Athletes Network

Membership of Other Associations[edit]

-USA Actors Fund

-UCLA Alumni

Awards and Distinctions[edit]

-1965 Most Outstanding Woman Athlete in the World, as voted on by UPI and AP

-Set 20 world records and fastest times in career

-Olympic Silver Order, 2000

-Recipient of the Arthur Ashe Leadership award

-Emmy and Golden Eagle Awards for TV

-NCAA Theodore Roosevelt award, 2003

-Named to the inaugural class of women who pioneered the sports media industry by the Paley Center Museum of Television & Radio Hall of Fame, 2005

-Two AFTRA-sponsored Gracie Awards for Radio Commentaries

-Golden Medallion Award by International Swimming Hall of Fame

-Listed 100 most influential sports women in US

-One of the 15 most prominent women sportscasters in the United States

-Member, US Olympic Hall of Fame

-Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York

-Inductee to the International Swimming Hall of Fame

-USOC Olympia Award

-First Female Kiphuth Fellow at Yale University

-Advisory Board, Veterans Advantage

IOC History[edit]

Member of the Women and Sport Commission, Appointed by IOC President Samaranch, 1998–present

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Donna de Varona – Olympic athlete profile at
  2. ^ a b Donna de Varona (USA) – Honor Swimmer profile at International Swimming Hall of Fame
  3. ^ National Women's Hall of Fame, Donna de Varona

External links[edit]

Preceded by

Sylvia Ruuska
Sharon Finneran
Sharon Finneran
Women's 400-meter individual medley
world record-holder (long course)

July 15, 1960 – July 26, 1962
July 26, 1962 – July 28, 1962
March 10, 1964 – July 9, 1967
Succeeded by

Sharon Finneran
Sharon Finneran
Claudia Kolb
Preceded by

Sylvia Ruuska
Women's 200-meter individual medley
world record-holder (long course)

May 13, 1961 – July 22, 1966
Succeeded by

Lynn Vidali
Preceded by
Eunice Kennedy Shriver
Theodore Roosevelt Award (NCAA)
Succeeded by
Alan Page
Preceded by
Mary Lou Retton
Flo Hyman Memorial Award
Succeeded by
Billie Jean King