Normalcy is what the world sought, as we walked into 2021 with buoyed hopes. With 2020 missing out on major events in the sporting world, this year brought with it a fair share of enthusiasm and the characteristic thrill. With a delayed Olympics, Euro and T20 World Cup, the world got to experience the passion and thrill of peopled stadii, bringing back a semblance of normalcy, which we direly craved. Wrapping 2021, t2oS looks back on the major events, triumphs and highlights which caught the pulse of fans across the world.
Long due Khel Ratnas
Tour de force Indian Women’s ODI skipper Mithali Raj and Indian Football team skipper talisman Sunil Chhetri received the Khel Ratna Awards in 2021, both marking an epoch coloured by unparalleled feats and leading the teams with heads held high.
Hitting it out of the park
The country basked in the glory of the Indian flag perched atop in Tokyo, as golden boy Neeraj Chopra brought home the gold medal in javelin throw at the Olympic Games 2020 with a throw of 87.58m. Only the second Indian to achieve the feat, after Abhinav Bindra, and the youngest ever, Neeraj etched his name on the hallowed pages of history as he lived up to the soaring expectations of countless Indians. The Haryana boy wowed fans across the world with his brimming confidence and techniques, honed under veteran Uwe Hohn to seal his place on the podium. Coming back to the heartiest welcome, Neeraj was on every billboard, as a ray of hope to a country which was recovering from a deadly second wave of the pandemic. Awarded the Khel Ratna Award 2021, Neeraj will forever be immortalised as the boy who made billions hope and future athletes dream for the greatest prize of them all.
Contingents of glory
It was the most successful Olympics campaign for the country in the history of the game, clocking a proud total of seven medals. Besides Neeraj, weightlifter Mirabai Chanu and wrestler Ravi Kumar Dahiya bagged silvers in their respective categories. Ace shuttler P.V. Sindhu also walked the path of familiar glory, winning a bronze, following a silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The Indian hockey team led by Manpreet Singh reclaimed their place as the most successful hockey team at the Olympic games with a bronze, winning a medal after almost 40 years. Wrestler Bajrang Punia brought home a bronze medal in his category, with fearless ambition. It was also the last time we got to experience the charisma of MC Mary Kom at the Summer Games.
It was a similar story for the Indian Paralympics contingent, with a blazing display, bagging all-time best of 19 medals comprising five gold, six silver and eight bronze in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. Avani Lekhara scripted history by winning two medals, a gold and bronze, in Shooting.
Ball of the century?
The world was stunned after watching Shikha Pandey bowl the ball of the century against Australia in the second women’s T20 match, dismissing Alyssa Healy off a second delivery that cut back unimaginably, hitting the stumps, reminding people of Shane Warne’s marvel against Gatting.
Gabba fortress conquered
The world watched as Kohli’s men in white breached the Gabba Fortress, in Brisbane, becoming the first team in almost 32 years to down the Aussies at their sacred den. Chasing a total of 328 on the final day for the historic win, a buoyant Indian side propelled by the crazy lot of Pant, Gill and Siraj sealed the heated series as Indian fans nodded like satiated sages to Aussie Coach Langer’s words: “Never ever, ever underestimate the Indians.”
An IPL like no other
Suspended following the outbreak of the second wave, a bifurcated season of the IPL returned in September with the rest of the games in UAE as the veterans of the game led Chennai Super Kings to their fourth IPL trophy. Young guns and debutants marking the tournament, the likes of Venkatesh Iyer, Ruturaj and Harshal Patel infused spirit into the games with their outstanding contributions.
The Black Panthers roar
It was sheer jubilation for new coach Andrey Chernyshov’s men, as Mohammedan Sporting Club lifted the Calcutta Football League trophy after a long stretch of 40 years, defeating Railways 1-0. While the tournament missed Mohun Bagan and East Bengal together, for the first time in their history, Mohemmedan SC coursed through the games with style, lifting their 12th CFL trophy.
End of an era
2021 marked the end of skipper Virat Kohli’s tenure as India’s captain in the limited overs format. Having a remarkable win percentage of 68, since he took over as full-time white ball captain in 2017, Kohli was replaced by Rohit Sharma. While he continues to lead the team in Tests, we will certainly miss the aggression of King Kohli leading the side, through difficult contests.
THE WORLD, RECAPPED
MMA star Khabib Nurmagomedov retired after an illustrious career, holding an undefeated record of 29 wins and the longest reigning UFC lightweight champion from 2018-2021. The absolute sensation that he is, he decided to embark on a new phase by signing a contract to play for Russian football team FC Legion Dynamo.
America did not miss their star boy Michael Phelps as swimmer Caeleb Dressel took the license to script history by bagging five gold medals at the Tokyo Summer Games. He became the first swimmer since 1896 to win gold in 50m freestyle and 100m freestyle and butterfly at the same Olympics.
Are we still drooling over Tom Daley? I think we are. Daley won hearts at the Tokyo Olympics as he won a gold and a bronze in diving categories, but more than that for his effervescent nature and exceptional knitting skills. Often caught knitting and crocheting, the pictures of his Olympic cardigan made the world go gaga. An openly gay style icon, Daley has been incredibly vocal about LGBTQIA+ representations in sports and the prevalent issues.
Simone Biles showed the world it is alright to take a deep breath and break from the groove, as she withdrew from the women’s teams gymnastics final citing mental health concerns. The interview brought the issue of mental health when it came to sports and the importance of giving the struggles their deserved space. The world stood with Biles as she decided to come back for the beam finals and eventually clinched a bronze.
Laurel Hubbard became the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Olympic Games as she went on to represent New Zealand in weightlifting.
Thank you, Mr 360
Ab de Villiers announced his retirement from all forms of cricket in November, bringing an end to an illustrious career, which saw him leading the South African side and being named ICC Cricketer of the Year thrice. There is nothing we would miss more than seeing the Superman slog it all over the park for sheer elan.
We got to see what we direly longed to see. Lionel Messi lifting an international trophy. Argentina defeated Brazil to win the Copa America 2020 as Lionel Messi fell to the ground with teary eyes with the final whistle as his teammates swarmed around him in utter euphoria. It was, yet again, a Messi masterclass as he was awarded the best player and top scorer, leading Argentina to their first Copa win since 1993. The buoyed Argentina side gave hope to countless fans, as they maintained their undefeated streak, in preparation of the 2022 World Cup.
Euro 2020 brought with it a semblance of what the world was waiting for. Held across the continent, the tournament brought back fans to the stadia, roaring for their teams. With incredible matches spangled across the stretch, the Euros will remain memorable for more than one reason. The world was united it their support and love for Denmark’s Christian Eriksen who suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch, during their match versus Finland. Danish Captain Simon Kjaer along with his team made sure his teammate was given immediate medical attention, with fans in the stadium singing in support of the Danish star, who later recovered. The Danish team, in honour of Eriksen, drilled past the group stage matches and the quarter finals with unmatched passion, scripting a story for the underdogs but were stopped in the semis by England. Italy clinched the trophy after having failed to qualify for the last World Cup, in what was redemption for Mancini’s men. Italian star goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was awarded the player of the tournament.
It has been a year to remember for 19-year-old British tennis sensation Emma Raducanu. Being the first singles qualifier in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam Title, Emma triumphed over Leylah Fernandez to clinch the US Open title, as Britain’s first female Grand Slam champion in 44 years. She was awarded the newcomer of the year for her breakthrough.
Messi and Barcelona
The streets of Catalonia saw people going frantic as Messi’s departure from Barcelona was announced, after 18 years at the club. It has not been a reality fans across the globe have been able to grasp, as Lionel Messi bid a teary farewell to his boyhood club owing to ambiguous structural and financials problems with the club. Leaving the club as the most-capped player of all time and all-time leading goal scorer with 670 goals, Messi left the club with a lot to think about. With 45 titles to his name at Barcelona, nobody quite understood what necessitated the sudden departure of the greatest player ever, as Barcelona failed to qualify for the Champions League RO 16 for the first time since 2001 and finds themselves languishing at the seventh position on the league table.
However, Messi embraced the romance of Paris as he joined Paris Saint-Germain few days later, forming an enviable frontline with Mbappe and Neymar. The woes of the departure were lessened, as Leo Messi placed himself on the seventh heaven winning the 2021 Balon D’Or, clocking 41 goals and 17 assists.
The Djoko way
Claiming the Surface Slam (winning majors on clay, grass and hard court in a season), Novak Djokovic became only the second player to achieve the feat after Rafael Nadal. Djokovic placed himself on the throne with three majors of the Australian Open, the French Open and the Wimbledon title to his name. He surpassed Federer’s record of record number of weeks spent at the helm of ATP singles rankings and tied Nadal and Federer with a record 20 singles major titles. It has quite clearly been Djoko’s reign on the Olympus.
CR7 with his groove
It was familiar pastures for Cristiano Ronaldo, as he joined his boyhood club Manchester United, leaving Juventus, in one of the most thrilling transfer seasons ever. Ronaldo did not take much time to get into the groove as he scored an outstanding brace against Newcastle, marking his return to the Premier League. Ronaldo became the leading goal scorer of all time, with a brace against Arsenal — an unimaginable 801 goals to his name, becoming the first ever footballer to surpass the mark.
Chelsea with the crown
Chelsea were crowned Champions of Europe as they defeated Manchester City in the final of the UEFA Champions League, bringing home the cup for the first time since 2012. Kai Havertz scored the solitary goal in the final.
Ash Barty at it
Named WTA Player of the Year, it has been a memorable season for 25-year-old Ashleigh Barty. After opting out of competition for over a year, Barty came back to successfully defend the Miami Open and eventually go on to win the Wimbledon Championships, becoming the first Australian woman to win the title since 1980. The Wimbledon also brought an end to the dominance of the Williams sisters, with it being the first time to not feature a Williams sister in the final since 2014.