© FIG Photo

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., April 3, 2009 – 2008 Olympic all-around champion Nastia Liukin of Parker, Texas, and 2008 Olympic balance beam gold-medalist Shawn Johnson of West Des Moines, Iowa, are two of five amateur athletes chosen as finalists for the 79th Annual AAU Sullivan Award. This year’s winner will be chosen by votes cast by AAU officials, U.S. Olympic Committee members and college sports information directors, with those cast online counting one-third toward the final tally. Fan voting ended March 27, and the winner will be announced on April 15 at a dinner at the New York Athletic Club.

In addition to Liukin and Johnson, the other three finalists are: U.S. Olympic men’s 4x100m free relay team, swimming; Cynthia Barboza of Stanford University, volleyball; and Tyler Hansbrough of the University of North Carolina, basketball.

“We are excited that Nastia and Shawn were chosen as finalists for the Sullivan Award,” said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics. “It is an incredible honor to have two gymnasts among the country’s top five amateur athletes. Nastia and Shawn achieved great success in 2008, especially at the Olympic Games, and they are role models for athletes throughout the world.”

At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Liukin won a total of five medals, the most by any female gymnast at the Games, to tie the U.S. gymnastics record for most medals in one Olympics held by Mary Lou Retton (1984) and Shannon Miller (1992). Liukin is just the third U.S. woman to win the Olympic all-around crown. Liukin’s medals are: gold – all-around; silver – team, balance beam and uneven bars; and bronze – floor exercise. Earlier in 2008, Liukin won the all-around title at both the Tyson American Cup and the Pacific Rim Championships presented by Gillette Venus. She also earned her fourth consecutive U.S. uneven bars crown at the Visa Championships. For her 2008 performances, Liukin became just the second gymnast ever, and the first since Mary Lou Retton in 1984, to win the Women’s Sports Foundation’s 2008 individual Sportswoman of the Year Award. She also was named the U.S. Olympic Committee’s 2008 Co-SportsWoman of the Year, the U.S. Sports Academy’s 2008 Female Athlete of the Year and the International Gymnastics Federation’s 2008 Athlete of the Year. She has a total of nine world medals to her credit, in addition to her five Olympic medals. Liukin is coached by her father, Valeri, who has four Olympic medals from 1988, including two gold. She trains at WOGA in Plano, Texas.

Johnson won four medals at the 2008 Olympic Games: one gold (balance beam) and three silver (team, all-around and floor exercise). She is only the second U.S. gymnast to win an Olympic gold medal on the balance beam, joining Shannon Miller (1996). Earlier in 2008, Johnson won the all-around at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Gymnastics, as well as claimed the U.S. all-around and floor exercise titles for the second straight year at the Visa Championships. She also won the all-around and team gold medals at the 2008 Italy-Spain-Poland-USA competition and placed second at the 2008 Tyson American Cup, a prestigious international all-around competition. She has three career world medals to join her four Olympic medals. Johnson trains at Chow’s Gymnastics in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Known as the "Oscar" of sports awards and older than The Heisman, the AAU Sullivan Award honors the outstanding amateur athlete in the United States. It has been presented annually by the AAU since 1930 as a salute to founder and past president of the Amateur Athletic Union, and a pioneer in amateur sports, James E. Sullivan. Based on the qualities of leadership, character, sportsmanship, and the ideals of amateurism, the AAU Sullivan Award goes far beyond athletic accomplishments and honors those who have shown strong moral character. Kurt Thomas (1979) and Paul Hamm (2004) are the only gymnasts to have won this honor.