The most iconic sports moments of 2021

·9-min read

And just like that, the year is over.

In and out of sports, 2021 has featured controversy, viral moments, inspiring moments and much more.

Now, we take the time to reminisce about the most iconic of those moments in the sporting world.

Penny Oleksiak made Canadian history in the 2021 Tokyo Games. (Getty)
Penny Oleksiak made Canadian history in the 2021 Tokyo Games. (Getty)

Blue Jays return to Canada

It was a homecoming for the ages.

After 670 days away from Rogers Centre, the Toronto Blue Jays returned on July 30, 2021, with 15,000 fans in the stands and full hearts all around.

The first game back had everything – from flashy opening ceremonies to drama until the very last out.

Kicking off a three-game series against the Kansas City Royals, the Blue Jays amassed 10 hits, two homers and a spectacular defensive play, courtesy of Santiago Espinal, to seal a 6-4 win on that first night.

Worth the wait.

Canadians shine in Tokyo

There was no shortage of history for Canada at the 2021 Olympic Games, starting with swimmer Penny Oleksiak.

The 21-year-old became Canada’s most decorated Olympian in history by earning three medals in Tokyo. And she did it with flair. Oleksiak’s last event of the Games was the one that gave her the record seventh medal – a new record for a Canadian.

On dry land, Andre De Grasse added to his own Olympic legacy, earning silver in the men’s 100 metres and an electrifying gold medal in the men’s 200-metre race.

Then came Damian Warner, who became the first Canadian ever to win the Olympic decathlon, setting an Olympic record with 9,018 points in the event, and becoming Canada’s flagbearer for the closing ceremonies for his incredible performance.

Rounding out Canada’s best-ever Summer Olympic performance was the women’s soccer team, who, thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Steph Labbé, stunned the United States in the semis and Sweden in the gold-medal match to come away as champions.

Canada finished the Games with 27 medals overall, a new national record in a non-boycotted Olympics.

Zegras and Milano score the goal of the year

The NHL’s youngsters are constantly reminding us of how fun this game can be. This, however, was next level.

Anaheim Ducks’ Trevor Zegras pulled off a behind-the-net, Michigan-style pass to Sonny Milano, who finished the dish by batting the puck off the air and into the back of the Buffalo Sabres’ net.

Zegras’s expression afterward really summarized how we were all feeling.

The future is as bright as it is fun.

Steph Curry breaks three-point record

What a year it’s been for two-time MVP Stephen Curry.

The Golden State Warriors star broke the NBA record for most career three-pointers in mid-December – and he made it look easy.

But Curry didn’t stop there. As 2021 took its final breaths, the 33-year-old went way beyond what the likes of Reggie Miller and Ray Allen ever accomplished: He reached 3,000 career three-point baskets.

Simone Biles’s courageous decision

Superstar Simone Biles ensured her legacy will live on way beyond the confines of a gym.

In a stroke of bravery, Biles announced her withdrawal from the women’s all-around competition in Tokyo as she tended to her mental health and personal well-being.

The announcement generated buzz, support, hate and everything in between. But it is nothing short of iconic. By opening up about her struggles as an elite athlete, Biles provided thousands of aspiring competitors with a new perspective – one that embraces and values emotional well-being.

Biles, a sexual-abuse survivor, said in August that her past trauma possibly affected her performance and mental state in Tokyo. She deserves a world of acknowledgement for listening to her needs in that moment.

As a result, Biles’s 32 Olympic and World medals have become just one piece of a legacy that goes way beyond her sports accomplishments.

Suni Lee wins all-around artistic gymnastics in Tokyo

For the fifth-consecutive time, an American woman won gold at the Olympic all-around artistic gymnastics event.

For the first time in history, that American woman was of Asian descent.

Suni Lee’s dramatic victory sent shockwaves through the Olympic world and may well have served as a passing of the baton for the next generation of United States gymnasts.

Lee’s runner-up, Rebecca Andrade, made history in her own right, becoming the first Brazilian to win a women’s gymnastics medal in the Olympics.

Connor McDavid’s real-life video game moves

What else is there to say about this guy?

Connor McDavid has continued his other-wordly dominance in the NHL, so far posting 17 goals and 49 points through 29 games in the season. Alongside linemate Leon Draisaitl, McDavid has been a constant beacon in a season filled with controversy and forced halts.

That unique glimmer of hope can be experienced in full force through two of his goals this year:

How else would you describe these if not with the word "iconic"?

Proud pro-footballers

Carl Nassib and Josh Cavallo made history for similar reasons across two different types of football.

It started with Nassib, who, in June, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. The Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman received full support from his team and started a crucial shift in football culture.

Across the pond, in Australia, Cavallo made his own statement in October.

“I am a footballer and I am gay,” the Adelaide United midfielder said, becoming the only out active pro-soccer player in the world.

The tides of change are strong in sports right now.

Youngsters take over U.S. Open

It’s always exciting to see young talent succeed.

Teenagers Emma Raducanu and Leylah Annie Fernandez ushered in a new batch of tennis phenoms at the U.S. Open in 2021.

The Canadian Fernandez defeated powerhouses such as Aryna Sabalenka, Elina Svitolina, Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka to reach the Grand Slam final, while Raducanu earned important wins against the likes of Belinda Bencic.

In the end, the 18-year-old Raducanu got the best of 19-year-old Fernandez, 6-4, 6-3. But what the event at Flushing Meadows showed is that there’s plenty to look forward to in women’s tennis.

Surf and skateboarding make Olympic debuts

Two much-anticipated sports made their Olympic debuts this year, and they fell nothing short of history.

The skateboarding event was particularly special, since the first-ever Olympic gold medal in the event went to 14-year-old Japanese star Momiji Nishiya, who got to celebrate her feat with the (proverbial, since no fans were allowed in the arena) home crowd.

Japan ended up capturing gold in three of four skateboarding events.

The home team wasn’t as dominant in surfing, where the women’s gold went to American Carissa Moore while Brazilian Italo Ferreira earned the men’s top spot. But Japan managed to carve out a silver and a bronze in surfing as well.

Vlad Guerrero Jr. dominates All-Star Game

Vladdy’s sole MVP trophy came in the middle of the season.

The Toronto Blue Jays star became the youngest All-Star MVP in the history of MLB, while also earning the hearts of every baseball fan with his undeniable charisma.

“Dreams come true,” Guerrero said through a translator as he held the trophy. “Since I was a kid, I was thinking about this moment. I worked all my life very hard. Thank God it’s happening right now.”

Guerrero Jr. had a 468-ft homer in the All-Star Game at Coors Field, finishing the night at 1-for-3 with two RBIs. In the regular season, the 22-year-old went on to drive in 111 runs with 48 homers and a .311 batting average.

He led the league in homers, runs scored, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS. And he still didn’t receive a single first-place MVP vote in the season.

That’s because of another young phenom.

Shohei Ohtani does what no MLBer’s ever done

The Tokyo Tower lit up in Los Angeles Angels colours one day after Shohei Ohtani became the 19th unanimous MVP in MLB history.

Ohtani’s season was indeed worthy of praise by imposing monuments and baseball legends.

As a hitter last season, the 27-year-old had 46 homers, a .965 OPS and 26 stolen bases. As a pitcher, he made 26 starts, posting a 3.18 ERA, 156 strikeouts and 44 walks over 130.1 innings.

The two-way superstar became the first player in MLB history to hit at least 30 homers and make at least 10 pitching appearances in the same season.

A former Rookie of the Year in 2018, Ohtani piled up the awards this year, including Player of the Year by his peers and American League Silver Slugger Award. He was also honoured with the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award.

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