NEW YORK, Oct. 17, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- The Women's Sports Foundation (WSF)—the leading authority on the participation of women and girls in athletics — celebrated barrier-breaking achievements in women's sports tonight at its 39th Annual Salute to Women in Sports Awards gala at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City co-presented by espnW, Gatorade and NBC Sports Group.
The WSF's coveted 2018 Sportswoman of the Year award was presented to two-time Paralympic gold medalist Oksana Masters (Paralympic Nordic Skiing) in the individual sport category; Olympic gold U.S. Women's National Ice Hockey Team goaltender Maddie Rooney (Ice Hockey) in the team sport category. The award is presented to athletes who have exhibited supreme athletic performance over the past year. Past winners include Serena Williams (Tennis), Simone Biles (Gymnastics), Maya Moore (Basketball) and Katie Ledecky (Swimming).
Two-time Olympic track & field middle-distance champion in the 800m, Caster Semenya, was honored with the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award. In 2009, an 18-year-old Caster won her first International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championship gold medal in the 800m, which came with newfound notoriety and increased scrutiny. Forced into the spotlight, Caster found herself the focal point of criticism from some in the athletic community; suddenly the spokesperson for a fight that she never asked to be a part of, she embraced the role with dignity and courage. Through it all, Caster has remained an uncompromising, dominant force and has spent the majority of her career as a courageous champion and adversary both on and off the track.
The Billie Jean King Leadership Award, an honor that recognizes an individual or group who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and made significant contributions to the advancement of women through achievements in sport and the workplace, was awarded to Gail K. Boudreaux, President and CEO of Anthem, Inc., and no. 5 on Fortune's Most Powerful Women list (2018). A multisport athlete, Gail was named Ivy League Player of the Year three-times while a member of the women's basketball team at Dartmouth College and was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003. Now, as captain of a leading health benefits provider, Gail translates lessons learned on the court to coach more than 50,000 employees.
"More than 40 years ago we founded an organization to recognize the accomplishments, the breakthroughs, and the fearless female athletes creating change across the world. Tonight, we have the privilege of honoring some of those important individuals and teams who continue to speak out for equity and equality, challenge the status quo and compete to their fullest potential," said WSF Founder Billie Jean King. "This year consisted of groundbreaking accomplishments by female athletes, but it also highlighted the many hurdles that we've yet to overcome. Those very hurdles underscore the continuous need for organizations such as the Women's Sports Foundation."
NBC Sports' Olympic correspondent Mary Carillo, and ESPN commentator and three-time Olympic soccer champion Julie Foudy emceed the event. The evening opened with the Grand March of Athletes, where more than 60 World Champions, Olympians and Paralympians representing an array of sports, abilities and backgrounds were honored for their achievements.
Grete Eliassen, WSF President and six-time Winter X Games freeskiing medalist, took the stage along with WSF President-elect and three-time Olympic medalist bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor.
Eliassen shared with the attendees that proceeds from the event will benefit the Women's Sports Foundation's programs to strengthen and expand access and opportunities for all girls and women in all sports. She also thanked the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) and the room of supporters who made gifts to support the Billie Jean King Lead Her Forward Fund honoring Billie Jean King's 75th Birthday.
"The power sports can bring to influence young girls is tremendous, a fact the Women's Sports Foundation has always known and has been dedicated to protecting and supporting for over 40 years," said Grete Eliassen, President of the Women's Sports Foundation. "I am honored and beyond thrilled to join the strong, empowered network of female athletes, coaches and business leaders that are working tirelessly to ensure millions of girls and women have the opportunity to reach their full potential."
Award recipients at the Women's Sports Foundation's 39th Annual Salute to Women in Sports:
Individual Sportswoman of the Year: Oksana Masters, Paralympic Nordic Skiing, USA
Oksana Masters is one of the most recognized female Paralympic athletes and her journey in life and in sports is truly inspirational. Her life began in an orphanage in Ukraine, and through determination, passion and hard work, Masters achieved her dream of earning Paralympic gold in PyeongChang.
Masters is a multi-sport athlete, competing in biathlon, cross-country skiing and cycling. She competed in four Paralympic Games since 2012 – both Summer and Winter Games – winning a total of eight medals. Her dominance over the last 12 months in biathlon and cross-country skiing has earned her the honor of being named this year's Individual Sportswoman of the Year, becoming the second para athlete Sportswoman of the Year winner since the inception of the award in 1980.
Team Sportswoman of the Year: Maddie Rooney, Ice Hockey, USA
Maddie Rooney, the U.S. Women's National Ice Hockey Team goaltender made the pressure-filled final save, stopping Canada's Meghan Agosta to give the U.S. the Winter Olympic win they have coveted for two long decades. This victory by the U.S. broke Canada's streak of four straight Olympic gold medals in women's hockey. This moment of brilliance was a lifetime in the making.
As a member of the No. 1-ranked U.S. Women's National Ice Hockey Team, Rooney earned three wins in three starts at the 2017 Four Nations Cup. The Minnesota-born goalie made 18 saves in the championship game against Canada, giving Team USA its third straight title. Rooney's dominant performance gave the United States the momentum it needed going into the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang.
Wilma Rudolph Courage Award: Caster Semenya, Track & Field, South Africa
Caster Semenya is an uncompromising, dominant force. Semenya, a South African middle-distance runner and two-time Olympic gold medalist, has spent her career as a courageous champion both on and off the track.
In 2009, an 18-year-old Caster won her first International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championship gold medal in the 800m, which brought notoriety and criticism. Despite public scrutiny and unfounded discrimination from the IAAF, Caster maintained her composure and persevered. She won her second consecutive Olympic gold medal in Rio in 2016 and followed that performance with a gold and a bronze at the 2017 World Championships. Recently, Caster filed a legal challenge to newly announced IAAF policies in the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Her willingness to use her voice to advocate for the dignity of all athletes shows undeniable courage.
Billie Jean King Leadership Award: Gail K. Boudreaux
Gail K. Boudreaux is an American businesswoman, philanthropist and a proven leader with more than three decades of expertise in the healthcare industry. Currently the President and CEO of Anthem, Inc., Gail has also been named one of Fortune's 50 Most Powerful Women in American Business.
Gail earned a BA with honors from Dartmouth College and an MBA with distinction in Finance and Health Care Administration from Columbia Business School. While at Dartmouth, she played on the women's basketball team. She was named Ivy League Player of the Year three times and became a two-time Academic All-American and third-team All-American. She became Dartmouth's all-time leading scorer and rebounder with 1,933 points and 1,635 rebounds and led the team to three Ivy League titles.
About The Women's Sports Foundation
The Women's Sports Foundation is a powerful voice, catalyst and convener dedicated to ensuring all girls have equal access to sports and physical activity and the tremendous life-long benefits they provide. Founded by Billie Jean King in 1974, we seek to strengthen and expand opportunities for all girls and women to participate in all sports at all levels through research, advocacy, community impact and a wide variety of collaborative partnerships. The Women's Sports Foundation has relationships with more than 1,000 of the world's elite female athletes and has positively shaped the lives of more than 3 million youth, high school and collegiate student-athletes. To learn more about the Women's Sports Foundation, please visit www.WomensSportsFoundation.org.
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