COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) announced today that USA Table Tennis athlete Steve Pupel (Grand Rapids, Mich.) has been named the recipient of the 2010 Jack Kelly Fair Play Award. The award was established by the USOC in 1985 to honor the late USOC President and Olympic medalist Jack Kelly. Each year, the award is presented to an athlete, coach or official in recognition of an outstanding act of fair play and sportsmanship. The award was presented by Kelly's wife, Sandra Kelly, at the U.S. Olympic Assembly in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Friday, Sept. 24, to recognize Pupel’s act of sportsmanship in the past year. During the 76th Annual Michigan Closed Table Tennis Championships held April 17-18, 2010, Pupel was one match away from defending his state title. He had just won his semifinal match when event staff was notified that a young junior player had recorded his preliminary results incorrectly resulting in the wrong player reaching the quarterfinals. Since the draw had already advanced to the finals, event staff ruled that the results should stand.
Pupel, however, offered the young junior, who in his own words “made an honest mistake,” the opportunity to re-enter the draw and replay the quarterfinals. Subsequently, the junior won his quarters – then defeated Pupel in a close semifinal match – and ultimately went on to win the event.
Pupel was undoubtedly disappointed to give up the spot he had earned in the finals to defend his title but his exemplary sportsmanship was, for Tournament Director Mike Veillette, “the highlight of my 20 years as tournament director. In this era where winning at all costs is often the norm, Steve’s actions are a breath of fresh air.”“Having an association with athletes such as Steve through the Olympic Movement and seeing actions such as his which epitomize the Olympic Ideals is one my greatest joys,” said USOC Chief Executive Officer Scott Blackmun. “Mr. Pupel’s selfless action and passion for the purity of the game is a moment I hope all athletes can look to for inspiration.”
The USOC’s decision to bestow the Jack Kelly Fair Play Award on to Pupel is only further reinforced by a showing of his constant belief in the values of sportsmanship.
“I'm honored to accept the Jack Kelly Fair Play award. I know that many other people are as deserving of this award as myself, so I feel very fortunate to have been selected, and I'd like to personally thank those involved with selecting me. I'm proud to have my name join the names of the past winners,” Pupel said. “I feel that we share a common desire to compete and to win, but only within the bounds of being fair to our fellow competitors. I would rather risk losing than to win in a way that is somehow unfair to someone else. As I read the stories of the past winners of this award, I realized this is the same way they felt. The past winners of this award truly epitomize fair play, and I am pleased to join that group.”
Pupel’s growth as a sportsman was aided by another competitor which is an added testament to his passion for the sport of table tennis.
"I understand that sportsmanship is a virtue with a contagious nature,” said Pupel. “About five years ago, I was playing one of the top players at the Grand Rapids Table Tennis club, Mark Gillard. He was up two games to zero and up 10-9 in the third. [Following a controversial point, which I attempted to persuade Mark into keeping,] I won the redo, won the game, and won the next two games to win the match. Mark was as gracious as ever, never showed any frustration, and taught me a lot about sportsmanship.”Pupel began his competitive table tennis career in 2002 as a way to escape the monotony of the cruel Michigan winters. “After you’re stuck inside for a month or so, table tennis is really fun,” said Pupel. “I have a table tennis robot that can fire balls at me up to 70 miles per hour, [so] I work out in my basement playing against the robot.”
The multi-dimensional athlete competed in triathlons for six years as well as bicycle time trials. In college, he filled in for his school’s cross country team and was a competitive weight lifted in the 149 lbs., weight class. Pupel also lettered in swimming and in golf for his high school where he was the team captain his senior year.
The USOC describes fair play as an individual or team dedicated to playing fair, obeying the rules and upholding the spirit of the game. Sportsmanship is an individual or team whose conduct and attitude demonstrate gracious behavior before, during and after competition. Notable past recipients of the Jack Kelly Fair Play Award include Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Lance Armstrong, Michele Akers, Laura Kraut, and Erin Mirabella. In addition to being a past president of the USOC, Kelly was an Olympic bronze medalist in single scull rowing in 1956 and an eight-time U.S. National Champion. He was awarded the James E. Sullivan Award for the top amateur U.S. athlete in 1947. He was the son of another famous Olympian, rowing triple gold medalist John B. Kelly, as well as brother to Princess Grace Kelly. Jack Kelly passed away in 1985.For more information, please contact USOC Communications at (719) 866-4529 or visit www.TeamUSA.org. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.