Bhubaneswar: The year 2021, despite being marred by the Covid-19 pandemic, gave us some of the most iconic sporting moments of all times.
From a battle of teenagers to a country ending a 41-year wait for a medal, 2021 surely gave us a bag full of memories that will last a lifetime.
As the year comes to a close, here’s a look back at some of the biggest moments that took place in the sporting landscape.
Glory Down Under (January)
Evenly poised at 1-1, it all came down to the 4th Test at fortress Gabba to decide the Test series between hosts Australia and India.
India were without their skipper Virat Kohli and two pace spearheads Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami. Team India’s line-up featured the inexperienced Navdeep Saini, Mohammed Siraj and debutants T Natarajan and Washington Sundar.
Yet, through sheer grit and self-belief India emerged victorious by three wickets, with a Player of the Match performance from wicket-keeper batter Rishabh Pant.
The series is widely considered to be India’s greatest win away from home.
Argentina’s Copa triumph (July)
The world waited with bated breath to see if 2021 was indeed the year when Lionel Messi got to lift an international trophy with the Argentina national team.
The opportunity presented itself in the Copa America final against Brazil at the iconic Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
Angel di Maria’s 22nd minute strike was enough for Argentina to clinch their first international trophy since 1993 when they won the same competition.
Italy win Euros (July)
The stage was set at the Wembley Stadium in London for England to win their first international trophy since 1966. But the Italians had other ideas.
Manchester United and England left-back Luke Shaw opened the scoring inside just two minutes for the Three Lions. A cagey affair, it was not until the 67th minute when Italy centre-back Leonardo Bonucci brought the scores level.
With neither sides able to break the deadlock in extra time, the game went into penalties.
Three England players missed their spot kicks as Italy won the shootout 3-2 and their second European Championships.
Medal 41 years in waiting (August)
The Indian Hockey national team has won a staggering eight Olympic gold medals. However, the last time an Indian hockey team had won an Olympic medal was 41 years ago in the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
That changed in 2021.
India came from behind to beat Germany 5-4 in the Bronze medal match in Tokyo to script a historic win.
Messi leaves Barcelona (August)
The world of football witnessed its biggest shock in recent memory when Lionel Messi announced that he would leave FC Barcelona, a club where he spent more than two decades of his life, at the end of the 2020-21 season.
“It’s time to say goodbye to Barça. It has been a long time, all my life. I can’t be more proud of what I have done and experienced in the city and I know that after a few years away I will be back – that I have promised to my kids also,” a tearful Messi said, addressing a press conference.
On the same day, he announced his decision to join Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain on a two-year deal.
The prodigal son returns (August)
If Messi leaving his boyhood club Barcelona was a shock, Cristiano Ronaldo returning to his old stomping ground triggered even greater buzz.
The Portuguese superstar made a sensational return to Manchester United in the 2021 summer transfer window on a two-year deal. Ronaldo had left the club in 2009 to join Real Madrid. Now 12 years later, CR7 returns to Old Trafford to restore the club’s lost glory.
Neeraj scripts history (August)
Indian javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra scripted history at the Tokyo Olympics by becoming the first Indian ever to win a gold medal in athletics with a throw of 87.58 metres.
Chopra also became only the second Indian after shooter Abhinav Bindra to win an individual gold medal at the Olympics. Chopra’s historic medal joins his other gold medals won at the Commonwealth and Asian Games.
Mental health takes centre stage (August)
The Tokyo Olympics offered the perfect stage for Simone Biles to cement her place as the greatest gymnast of all time.
Biles dominated Day 1 of the trials but on Day 2, she suffered a series of mishaps. Biles bravely admitted the pressures of performing at the higher stage and opened a global dialogue on mental health for athletes.
“I say put mental health first. Because if you don’t, then you’re not going to enjoy your sport and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to. So it’s OK sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself, because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are — rather than just battle through it,” Biles said after withdrawing from the team final.
Following Biles withdrawal, the US’ hopes and dreams fell on the young shoulders of 18-year-old Suni Lee who won a gold medal to register a historic win.
India’s Olympic heroics (August)
Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra was not the only Indian to bring glory to the nation at the Tokyo Olympics.
Sporting world’s greatest spectacle saw Indian athletes win seven medals, the nation’s finest ever performance at an Olympic event.
Medal tally: Weightlifter Saikhom Mirabai Chanu began the proceedings by winning the silver medal in the Women’s 49 kg event. It was followed by PV Sindhu’s bronze in the Badminton Women’s singles event. Boxer Lovlina Borgohain won a bronze in the Women’s welterweight event. Wrestler Ravi Kumar Dahiya secured a historic silver medal in the Men’s freestyle 57 kg event. The Indian national hockey team defeated Germany to clinch bronze. Wrestler Bajrang Punia won bronze in the men’s freestyle 65 kg event before Chopra brought the country to a standstill with his gold medal performance in the Men’s javelin throw event.
Smells like teen spirit (September)
The 2021 US Open final was contested by two previously unknown entities.
Britain’s Emma Raducanu entered the US Open through the qualifier bracket but the 18-year-old made her way to the final to meet a fellow teenager, 19-year-old Canadian player Leylah Fernandez.
Raducanu won the final 6-4, 6-3 to register a historic win. The British tennis star became the first singles qualifier in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam title. The 18-year-old’s achievement also won her the 2021 BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.