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James Edward Sullivan (November 18, 1862 in New York CitymarkerSeptember 16, 1914) was an Irish American sports official. He was one of the founders of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in 1888, serving as its secretary from 1889 until 1906 when he was elected as president from 1906 to 1909. He declined a fourth term and was re-elected to his former position as secretary-treasurer until his sudden death which followed an emergency operation. Sullivan also served as the chairman of the Greater New York Irish Athletic Association in 1903 and on the New York City Board of Education from 1908 to 1912.


His business career began in 1878 at Frank Leslie's publications. In 1880 he started a paper, The Athletics News. His career continued in sports publishing, and sporting goods businesses. His athletics on the track had started in 1877 as a member of the Pastime Athletic Club. In 1888 and 1889 he won the all round championship of the club.

He also was one of the most influential people in the early Olympic movement, although his relationship with IOCmarker president Pierre de Coubertin was tense. Sullivan was also an organizer of the Outdoor Recreation League and served as its second president.

During the 1908 London Olympic Gamesmarker, Sullivan was Secretary of the United States Olympic Committee. He lodged a stream of protests, averaging almost one per day, over two weeks. It seems that Sullivan may have been trying to consolidate his position in the sporting hierarchy at home, and he felt that he must be seen to be fighting for the rights of the American team. His complaints went down well in the sensationalist press but in the more respected and responsible journals there was a quite different view of Sullivan’s behaviour. On his return to the U.S. Sullivan said, "The victory of the American team at the Olympic Games was undoubtedly the greatest in the history of Amateur sport in the world, when it is taken into consideration the handicaps the members were subjected to. I do not wish to criticise British sportsmen generally, for there are many fair minded people among them but I want to make it as strong as possible that the attitude of Messrs: Davidson, Andrews, Fischer, and Dr Bulger, the English Officials of the games, was not only outrageous to Americans, but contrary to their own rules, and if these men continue to dictate affairs, England will become athletically degenerate." In 1911 he was injured in a train wreck in Fort Wayne, Indianamarker.

The 1912 Summer Olympics were opened to female divers and swimmers but he refused to allow American women to participate.

He died in 1914 at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York after an operation on his intestines.


In 1930, the AAU established the James E. Sullivan Award in his honour. It is awarded annually to the best amateur athlete in the US. In 1977, he was inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame.



  1. Bill Mallon and Ian Buchanan 1908 Olympic Games: Results for All Competitors in All Events, With Commentary pub. McFarland 2008
  2. New York Times 8 August 1908

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