Sport in 2021 tried to get back to normal
Let’s leave it to a few old guys to remind us that sport can not only be a thing of beauty, but also be enjoyed without guilt and outside the bubbles without spectators. We needed pandemic relief this year, and that’s exactly what Tom Brady and Phil Mickelson came up with as the timeline moved to 2021.
In February, there was Brady, 43, at the Super Bowl – again – but with a new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, intimidating the Kansas City Chiefs with precise passing and over-the-top bluster. Sixty minutes of football later: Bucs 31, Chiefs 9 and Brady had clinched their seventh championship ring.
It was a home game. Kind of.
But instead of a stadium filled with Bucs loyalists, it was played in front of a small crowd of around 25,000 – a third of health workers, which was both a fitting tribute to their exploits and a reminder that sport was played a lot in the shadow of the coronavirus.
Three months later, one late May afternoon in South Carolina, Mickelson, 50, challenged Father Time as hundreds of fans happily walked alongside him down the last fairway of the PGA Championship. Too bad for social distancing.
Two putts later, Lefty, as Mickelson is known, became the oldest golfer to win one of golf’s four major tournaments.
âI’ve never had anything like this,â Mickelson said of the rolling mosh pit that escorted him to the last hole. “It was a bit annoying, but it was also exceptionally awesome.”
We could all understand that sports came back to life until 2021 after the 2020 games were played in âbubblesâ or canceled altogether. In February, the Australian Open took place under extreme confinement. At the end of August, the United States Open took place in front of packed halls.
Vaccination wars against Covid-19 raged throughout the year. Depending on your perspective, superstars like Kyrie Irving (NBA), Aaron Rodgers (NFL) and Novak Djokovic (ATP) were either iconoclasts for refusing to be vaccinated or serious threats to public health.
However, let’s leave it to two young women to bring the importance of athlete mental health off the sidelines and onto center court and on the Olympic mats.
Naomi Osaka, 24, withdrew from Roland Garros after being fined $ 15,000 for skipping the press conference after her first round victory. She was then threatened with disqualification or suspension by all four Grand Slam tournaments if she continued to avoid the media.
Instead, she pushed back.
“I have often felt that people have no regard for the mental health of athletes and this rings very true every time I see or attend a press conference,” she said. written in an Instagram post.
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She got the support of Serena Williams.
âGirl, isn’t it. Your life is yours! wrote Williams, who won 23 Grand Slam singles titles.
Thus, Osaka, quadruple Grand Slam champion, completely skipped Wimbledon. His loss in the third round of the US Open ended his chances of defending his 2020 title.
âBasically I feel like I’m at this point where I’m trying to figure out what I want to do, and honestly I don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match,â one Osaka said. in tears. After the game.
At the Tokyo Olympics, 24-year-old Simone Biles withdrew from the team final and all-around after admitting a mental block that gymnasts call “the twisties”. Considered one of the greatest gymnasts of all time, Biles performed a watered-down jump during the team competition.
âI literally can’t see the top from the bottom,â she wrote in an Instagram story. âIt’s the craziest feeling there is. Not having an inch of control over your body.
Ahead of the Games, seven-time Olympic medalist Biles, including four gold, admitted she felt the pressure to succeed. She later explained that she found her strength in Osaka’s choice to take care of her rather than chasing medals.
Biles stayed by her teammates’ side and offered unwavering support as the Americans won a silver medal behind the Russian Olympic Committee team. She was also present when Sunisa Lee won gold in the women’s all-around competition.
Lee, 18, arrived in Tokyo hoping to win a gold medal for her father, who is her biggest fan, and for all the American Hmong she considers invisible in the United States. She has publicly stated, however, that a silver medal in Biles was more realistic.
But with her teammate absent, Lee has shown she is up to the challenge.
Biles also left Tokyo with a feat. She returned to competition in time for the beam, winning a bronze medal with reduced routine to tie Shannon Miller for the most Olympic medals by an American gymnast.
The fact that the Tokyo Olympics took place was a milestone. It was delayed for a year and international spectators were not allowed to attend. The stadiums and arenas were largely television studios.
The home side received great rewards when Japan beat the United States, 2-0, in women’s softball, which returned to the Olympics for the first time since 2008. Yukiko Ueno, 39, was just as dominant on the pitcher’s mounds as she was in Beijing when Japan won over the United States in this gold medal game.
The world’s No.1-ranked U.S. women’s soccer team was due to follow their 2019 World Cup title with an Olympic gold medal. Instead, they were defeated by Canada 1-0 in the semifinals and then settled for the bronze medal. Even one of the team’s most famous stars admitted it was the end of an era.
âI was just upset,â said Carli Lloyd, 39, two-time gold medalist and the team’s oldest player. ” We get up early. We are training late. We sacrifice. We give up so much, and you want to win. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you don’t. It’s just heartbreaking, really.
There were a few other notable losses during the sporting year. Daniil Medvedev upset Djokovic in the US Open final, ending the Serbian’s quest to sweep the tennis Grand Slam – a feat accomplished only by Rod Laver.
Hank Aaron, who confronted racism by eclipsing Babe Ruth as baseball’s home run king, hitting 755 home runs and holding the sport’s most famous record for over 30 years, has passed away. He was 86 years old.
Then there is a victory which can turn into defeat.
Coach Bob Baffert appeared to win a record-breaking seventh Kentucky Derby when Medina Spirit crossed the finish line first. A week later, it was revealed that the foal had tested positive for a banned corticosteroid. Medina Spirit died on December 5 after an apparent heart attack following a training session at the Santa Anita Park racetrack in California.
Baffert was kicked out of Churchill Downs and Derby for the next two years. This result has been challenged in state and federal courts and may be for years to come. If the failed test is confirmed, Medina Spirit will be disqualified and the second Mandaloun will be declared the winner.
For the first time in 61 years of history, the European Football Championship was played on a continent-wide scale. She too was delayed for a year. Big players faced off in front of small crowds in 11 cities – some as far apart as Seville, Spain, near the southwestern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, and Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, nestled on the banks of the The Caspian sea.
Italy beat England on penalties to win the league, dashing England’s hopes of winning their first major title since the 1966 World Cup. The shootout was the dramatic conclusion of a captivating day at the Wembley Stadium in London. It was redemption for an Italian team that were humiliated four years ago when they failed to qualify for the World Cup.
International athletes have won major American titles. Hideki Matsuyama won the Masters, becoming the first man born in Asia to do so. When asked if he is now the tallest in Japanese history, Matsuyama refused.
“I can’t say I’m the tallest,” he replied through an interpreter. “However, I’m the first to win a middle finger, and if it’s the bar, then I put it on.”
Spaniard Jon Rahm won the US Open and his first major tournament at the Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, registering two birdies on the last two holes. He dedicated his victory to a compatriot, Seve Ballesteros, who died in 2011. His victory came two weeks after being forced to withdraw from the memorial tournament due to a positive Covid-19 test. At the time, he was at the clubhouse after round three with a six-stroke lead.
Rahm was philosophical about finding some good in the precarious position the pandemic has put many of us into.
âI never felt resentment for anything for a second, and I don’t blame anyone,â he said. âUnfortunately, the Covid is a reality. We have lost a lot of people. People said it wasn’t fair, but it was the right thing to do. And it all led to this moment.
And Giannis Antetokounmpo, nicknamed the Greek Freak, whose gentle manners made him a popular hero in Milwaukee, led the Milwaukee Bucks to an NBA championship. Antetokounmpo, 26, was a jubilant winner who placed his team’s victory in a perspective of hope suited to a world disrupted by the pandemic.
“It should make every person, every child, anyone in the world to believe in their dreams,” said jubilant Antetokounmpo, who is also of Nigerian descent. âI hope I give to people all over the world, Africa, Europe, give them hope that it can be done. Eight and a half years ago, before entering the league, I had no idea where my next meal would come from. My mom used to sell stuff on the streets.