Throughout a busy 2021 schedule, athletes treated fans to remarkable and awe-inspiring performances. With the year winding down, theScore looked back at an exciting 12 months and voted on its top 21 sportspeople.
21-17 I 16-12 I 11-7 I 6-2 (Dec. 30) I No. 1 (Dec. 31)
11. Tadej Pogacar, cycling
Cyclists aren’t supposed to dominate in their early 20s. It’s just not something that happens. But Pogacar clearly isn’t one for such conventions. In July, the Slovenian all-rounder became the youngest winner of successive Tour de France titles. Six days after the grueling 3,400-kilometre Euro trek, the 23-year-old captured bronze in the Olympic men’s road race. Add in victories at two of the sport’s most-prized one-day races – Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Giro di Lombardia – and Pogacar’s year is among the best in recent history.
10. Lionel Messi, Paris Saint-Germain
Messi won the Ballon d’Or a record seventh time in 2021. The 34-year-old was effectively forced to leave Barcelona in the summer due to the club’s huge debts, but he still departed with a Copa del Rey triumph and a remarkable haul of 28 goals in 29 appearances over the 2020-21 campaign. However, his greatest feat was in the Copa America, where he inspired Argentina with four goals and five assists. At long last, victory over Brazil in the final earned Messi his first senior international trophy.
9. Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing
For the first time since 2016, someone other than Lewis Hamilton won the Formula 1 drivers’ championship. Verstappen claimed the title on the final lap of the final race of the season. While his victory comes with some controversy, the Dutchman is a deserving champion. He won a season-best 10 races and stood on the podium 18 times, earning top-two finishes in the final eight races. Verstappen also became the fourth-youngest champion at 24 years and 73 days old.
8. Elaine Thompson-Herah, track
Jamaica’s Thompson-Herah won gold at the women’s 4x100m relay in Tokyo, and she became the first woman to capture the sprint double at back-to-back Olympics. She joined Usain Bolt as the only two who’ve achieved that feat – decent company. Thompson-Herah is also the second-fastest woman ever at both distances – an outstanding accomplishment considering dual record holder Florence Griffith-Joyner’s implausible standards. And, at the Prefontaine Classic in August, the 29-year-old Thompson-Herah ran a personal-best 10.54 in the 100m, just 0.05 seconds back of FloJo’s mark. Blink and you’ll miss her.
7. Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich
Lewandowski’s resume speaks for itself. After establishing himself as one of the world’s most prolific strikers in the last decade, the Bayern Munich star elevated his game to another level in 2021. He cemented his place as a Bundesliga legend last season with 41 league goals – breaking Gerd Muller’s 49-year single-season scoring record – on his way to winning the European Golden Boot. Although Lewandowski controversially didn’t get his hands on the elusive Ballon d’Or, 2021 will go down as the year he emerged from the shadows of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to be recognized as one of soccer’s brightest stars.