While competing and in the conversations they sparked out of matches, sports women of 2021 have a lot to celebrate.
With a delayed Olympics, conversation-starting tennis stars and equality battles, 2021 was quite the year for women’s sport. While there were many moments to choose from, certain wins stood out, got us excited and made us proud of the women smashing records and making a stand. Here are just eight that we loved – what stood out for you?
Young women recognised at BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year
Nineteen-year-old Emma Raducanu became the first woman in 15 years to win the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year prize. She also became the third female tennis player, after Virginia Wade in 1977 and Ann Jones in 1969, to win after she blew crowds away this summer with her unexpected success in the Grand Slam tournaments.
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Radacanu wasn’t the only young woman to win big, though: 13-year-old skateboarder Sky Brown took home Young Sports Personality of the Year, matching Tom Daley’s record for the youngest winner of the award. And Simone Biles won the Lifetime Achievement Award, aged just 24. She’s the youngest person to take home the award, after speaking out about her mental health during the Olympics and standing up against the abuse she faced as part of Team USA gymnastics. Seeing young women being celebrated in mainstream sports and as part of the biggest prize in Britain feels fitting after the year we’ve had.
Simone gets back on the beam
Before being shrouded with awards, Biles sparked conversation, celebration and criticism for dropping out of five events at the Olympics. Most impressive isn’t her ability to be transparent with hush-hush subjects, but her lack of interest in the many words written about it. “The word quitter is not in my vocabulary. For some of you that may be how you define me but I can’t hear you over my seven Olympic gold medals,” she wrote in an Instagram post after fearlessly competing in the final gymnastics event, the beam, and taking home bronze.
Emma Raducanu takes New York
Before July this year, the name Emma Raducanu wouldn’t have inspired lengthy conversations at the dinner table. But after entering Wimbledon as a ‘wildcard’ player, ranking outside the world top 300, she moved through the ranks – fast. But she pulled out ahead of the quarter-finals due to sickness and breathing difficulties. As if to prove it wasn’t a fluke, she came back fighting fit to win the US Open – placing her at number 23 in the world rankings and becoming the British number one. She’s barely scratched the surface.
Sky Brown enjoys the Olympics
Brown is the youngest professional skateboarder in the world and the youngest British athlete to ever win a medal. Taking home bronze at the Olympics wasn’t just a stand out moment for her – it’s an event that will be etched onto the mind of those watching, too. Brown previously told Stylist that she never took her training for the competition ‘seriously’, and that joy was clear as she smiled her way through flips and tricks on the ramp. It was one of the best moments of sport because she radiated positivity. We’re making it our 2022 mission to be a little more Sky.
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Emily Campbell lifts silver
The women’s weightlifting final was also a moment that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Watching the sport doesn’t just feel like a watershed moment for women when strength and fitness were hugely in the spotlight, but it was particularly potent in Britain. It was the largest female team of British Olympic weightlifters that had ever gone to the games – with three competitors – and with no men’s team, all eyes were on the women. Emily Campbell herself was another underdog, having only lifted for five years and recovering from knee surgery when she took home the silver medal. There was something powerful about watching her lift 283kg that we couldn’t peel our eyes away from – and we’re excited to see the next generation of women that Campbell inspires.
The first woman wins the Grand National
Rachael Blackmore became the first female jockey to win the Grand National in 182 years. Only 19 women have ever competed in the race, and no woman has ever placed in the top two. After her win, she told ITV: “I don’t feel male or female right now. I don’t even feel human… It’s unbelievable.” She’s since gone on to take home four sporting achievement awards, including the BBC Sports Personality World Sport Star of the Year. A reminder that sometimes you have to be what you can’t see – after all, someone has to be the first.
Naomi Osaka spoke out
Naomi Osaka was responsible for another incredible moment in tennis – but not because she won. Rather, because she dropped out of the French Open. After being fined for refusing to be interviewed by the press due to her depression and social anxiety, the 24-year-old tennis star decided to withdraw from the tournament. She made a come back in the US Open but has since explained that she will be taking a break from the sport. “I feel like for me recently, when I win I don’t feel happy. I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don’t think that’s normal. I didn’t really want to cry,” she told reporters of her decision. While we can’t wait to see her excellence back on our screen, Osaka has continuously shown us the importance of prioritising your own mental health over the expectations of others.
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Team USA settle pay
A judge threw out the United States Women’s National Team’s lawsuit about pay inequality in May 2020. It seemed as though the lawyers knew nothing about this team, who were clearly not going to give up that easily, as they appealed the decision. This year, identical contracts were offered to both the men’s and women’s national teams in an attempt to resolve the gender pay dispute.
There’s been no confirmation as to whether the women accepted the offer, but footballer Alex Morgan, who is leading the dispute, has said she wasn’t sure if it’s ‘good enough’. That’s given the success of the women’s team (they are actually the most successful international women’s team, having won four World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals) compared to the men’s (having never won a major world tournament). The equal pay conversation may be ongoing, but their impact in fighting for equality in sport in 2021 has been huge.
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