After COVID-19 brought the sports world to a halt in 2020, this past year saw many leagues return to more normal schedules.
With sports fans itching for something to cheer for, 2021 delivered in a big way. The Tokyo Olympics were full of intriguing and controversial storylines, the Montreal Canadiens made a surprise run to the Stanley Cup final, and Tom Brady led his new team to a Super Bowl victory, just to name a few of the highlights.
Amid all the big plays and shocking upsets, a handful of people stood above the rest in terms of hype. Here are the 15 athletes Yahoo Canada users searched for the most in 2021.
Woods was involved in a terrifying car wreck in February that left the golf star wondering if he would lose a leg. The 45-year-old is still recovering but recently returned to the golf course with his son Charlie at the PNC Championship, where the two fell just short of a victory after an impressive 11-birdie streak.
Andreescu became a household name in 2019 after defeating Serena Williams at the US Open. This past year wasn't a successful one for her, as she was upset in the first round of both the French Open and Wimbledon. She withdrew from the Tokyo Olympics over COVID-19 concerns and also tested positive for the coronavirus in April. She has already announced she will not participate in the 2022 Australian Open due to personal reasons.
Biles delivered the most shocking moment of the Tokyo Games when she announced her withdrawal. Considered the greatest gymnast of all-time and favoured to win every time she set foot on the mat, her absence left a massive hole in some of the marquee events of the Olympics. Biles was dealing with a mental issue known as "the twisties," which left her disoriented in midair. The American was panned by many for "quitting" on her team, and praised by others for prioritizing her mental health.
The Great One made headlines earlier this year when he stepped down from his front-office role with the Edmonton Oilers to join the TNT broadcast crew. Gretzky had a fun debut with the network, shooting pucks on Charles Barkley before getting made fun of for his sweater vest. Gretzky was also in the news in March, when his father, Walter, passed away after a nine-year battle with Parkinson's disease.
Much like Andreescu two years prior, Fernandez made a name for herself at the US Open. Unseeded at the tournament, the 19-year-old plowed her way through the field, knocking off a series of heavyweights in upset fashion. She rode her momentum all the way to the final, where she met her match in another unseeded teenager (more on her later). Fernandez quickly won over Canadians with her Cinderella run and established herself as a name to watch for the future.
Andre De Grasse
He wasn't going step for step with Usain Bolt this time around, but De Grasse was all over the podium in Tokyo. He won bronze in both the 100-metre race and as part of the 4x100m relay team, but shone brightest in the 200-metre race, where he won gold.
The greatest quarterback of all-time proved he wasn't just a product of the New England Patriots' system, winning the Super Bowl in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In addition to the on-field success, Brady continued to build his brand as one of social media's funniest athletes.
Osaka won the 2021 Australian Open, but winning a grand slam is not the reason she appears on this list. The 24-year-old tennis star made waves ahead of the French Open when she announced she would not participate in her mandatory media sessions. She ended up withdrawing from the tournament due to mental health issues, and also missed Wimbledon. Many athletes voiced support for Osaka's controversial decision.
One of the most dominant individuals in the history of professional sports, Williams did not have the type of year we've grown accustomed to seeing. She did not win a tournament in 2021 as injuries forced her to withdraw from numerous WTA events. There were even rumours after the Australian Open that she was headed for retirement.
The other teenager to reach the US Open final in 2021 was Raducanu, who was born in Toronto but moved to England when she was two years old. Like Fernandez, she shockingly recorded upset after upset over the course of the tournament, and capped things off by hoisting the trophy. Raducanu took home BBC Sports Personality of the Year for her remarkable triumph.
On the court, Djokovic furthered his case for being the greatest men's tennis player of all-time. He tied Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 career grand slam wins thanks to his victory at Wimbledon. Off the court, Djokovic has caused a stir by refusing to publicly disclose his vaccination status, which could cause him to miss tournaments.
Price was instrumental in leading the Canadiens all the way to the Stanley Cup final last season, returning to his all-star form at the perfect time. Right before the 2021-22 season was set to begin, Montreal announced Price had entered the NHL's player assistance program, which helps players and families with matters of mental health, addiction, and substance abuse. Price has since rejoined the Canadiens for workouts, but has yet to appear in a game.
This past year marked the end of the Kyle Lowry era in Toronto, as the Raptors icon joined the Miami Heat. Lowry's absence has been felt in a big way, with the Raptors struggling to find consistency. Luckily for the Raptors, Lowry has already expressed his desire to retire with the team, whenever that time comes.
After capturing hearts by winning four medals at the 2016 Olympics as a 16-year-old, Oleksiak further cemented herself as one of the greatest Canadian athletes ever with her performance in Tokyo. She won three more medals in the pool, bringing her total to seven — the most ever for a Canadian Olympian. It's a good thing she didn't listen to the teacher who told her to stop swimming.
McGregor is one of the most polarizing figures in sports, seemingly making news several times per month with controversial comments and behaviour. On top of all his usual antics in 2021, McGregor broke his leg in gruesome fashion during a fight with Dustin Poirier in July. As to be expected, the Irishman didn't take the defeat well.
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