After the 2020 hiatus in professional sports caused by Covid, our favorite tournaments, championships, and the Olympics returned in 2021 with epic achievements by the world’s greatest athletes. Congratulations and thank you to our 2021 STYLE of SPORT Champions for the thrills and inspiration you provided this year!
A fast farewell…
In her fifth Olympic Games, her first as a mom and at the age of 35, Allyson Felix became the most decorated athlete in Olympic track and field history (7 Gold, 3 Silver, 1 Bronze) when she won her 11th medal in Tokyo in the Women’s 4×400-meter relay — surpassing Carl Lewis’s American record. The grande dame of United States track and field had said these would be her final Olympics, and she made sure her farewell would long be remembered.
There is no bigger, and more pressure packed sport stage than the Olympics, intensified this summer in Tokyo by the one year delay of the Games. Caeleb Dressel, one of the most hyped athletes of Tokyo 2020, rose to the occasion and exceeded expectations with not just five gold medals, but two world records and two Olympic records, as well. In the first Olympics since Michael Phelps retired, Dressel put on such a show, we didn’t even miss Phelps in the pool.
SIMONE BILES & NAOMI OSAKA
The struggle is real…
Tennis star Naomi Osaka brought the conversation about athletes and mental health to the forefront when she pulled out of the French Open in May. The four-time Grand Slam tournament winner wrote on Instagram that she had suffered from bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018, and would be taking time off from the court. But the conversation got much louder when Simone Biles, considered the greatest gymnast of all time, sidelined herself at the Tokyo Olympics also citing mental health issues. In a sport where the level at which these athletes perform makes us forget how dangerous it is, Biles withdrew from competiton after experiencing disorienting midair “twisties”. The bravery and courage of both these athletes, and many others who came forward, is a demonstration of what champions they truly are by bringing the conversation about mental health, often stigmatized, into the spotlight. Biles did not walk away empty handed either. In the final event, she returned to competition on the balance beam and won the bronze medal saying, “It means more than all the golds”.
TIGER & CHARLIE WOODS
Like father, like son…
Just 10 months after a devastating car crash and a leg injury so severe there was discussion of amputation, Tiger Woods was back on the golf course this December with 12-year old son Charlie in The PNC Championship family challenge. While many, including himself, wondered if Tiger would ever play golf again — let alone professionally — there was not a more heart-warming return than this special tournament. As incredible as it was to see Tiger playing again, so was watching Charlie with his matching swing and swagger uncannily like his dad. Surging on the final day to almost win the championship, Tiger and Charlie set a tournament record with 11 consecutive birdies, but fell just short of 2021 champions John Daly and John Daly II.
In other golf news…
Golf favorite and legend, 50-year-old Phil Mickelson turned back the hands of time to win the 2021 PGA Championship, becoming the oldest major winner in history. It was his 45th victory on the PGA Tour, including six majors: three Masters titles (2004, 2006, 2010), two PGA Championships (2005, 2021), and one Open Championship (2013).
RON GRONKOWSKI & TOM BRADY
Other age defying performances…
He did it again — and at age 43! Quarterback Tom Brady won his record seventh Super Bowl in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, beating the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs and their 26-year-old, two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Patrick Mahomes 31-9. Brady is the oldest ever to play in a Super Bowl and was also named Super Bowl MVP for a record fifth time. But perhaps his best play of the season came a few days later at the team’s Super Bowl boat parade celebration. After one too many, he tossed the Lombardi trophy to tight end Cameron Brate in another boat — a throw Brady admitted he has no recollection — who thankfully did not drop the pass!
A battle for the ages – the teen ages!
In an all-teen Women’s US Open final of two unseeded players, 18-year-old British tennis phenom Emma Raducanu, completed her fairytale run through the 2021 tournament in straight-sets, beating the other teen sensation of the Open, 19-year old Canadian Leylah Fernandez. Raducanu became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam, just the second of her career, and without losing a set all tournament. Fernandez deserves equal recognition after upsetting Naomi Osaka; three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber; and Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka, two of the top five players in the world, en route to the final.
NCAA CHAMPIONS STANFORD WOMENS BASKETBALL TEAM
After a year without the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, No. 1 Stanford won the 2021 NCAA championship in a 54-53 thriller against No. 3 Arizona. With under a minute to play in the fourth quarter, Aari McDonald, Arizona’s star player, hit three of four free throws to bring Stanford’s lead down to just one point, but missed a last-second shot giving Stanford the win. In a season filled with adversity, playing all games on the road because of Covid restrictions, Stanford earned its third national title, led once again by its 35 year head coach Tara VanDerveer. The all-time winningest women’s coach in NCAA history has been at the helm of all three of the program’s national titles.
What a Babe… Ruth that is!
Los Angeles Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani had one of the most incredible seasons in baseball history in 2021, and was unanimously awarded the American League MVP Award. It is rare that a pitcher can hit as well as he can throw, and Ohtani wowed with his ability to do both — and steal bases too! At the plate, Ohtani hit .257 with 46 homers, 100 RBIs, and 26 stolen bases in 155 games. On the mound, he made 23 starts and went 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts — the likes of which has not been seen since Babe Ruth took the field!