It’s safe to say 2021 has been a year that no one will forget. It has brought us a range of sporting highs and some challenging times to overcome.
After a 12 month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, Japan finally welcomed the sporting world into Tokyo for the Olympic Games. The momentous occasion saw Team GB finish fourth in the medals table with 22 gold, 21 silver and 22 bronze medals.
The European Championships united our nation and restored hope to our country after Gareth Southgate’s men came close to bringing home the silverware.
While Emma Raducanu won the US Open at just 18 years old to become a national treasure and transcend tennis in ways that no other woman in the last decade has been able to do.
With each special moment that has taken place over the last year, there has been someone behind a camera poised to capture the shot that would go down in history.
Sportsmail have rounded up the 15 most iconic photographs and moments from 2021 as we look ahead to a new year of action and sport.
Sportsmail have rounded up the 15 most iconic photographs and moments from 2021 as we look ahead to a new year of action and sport
Emma Raducanu’s fairytale in New York at the US Open
Emma Raducanu’s name went up in lights following her spectacular triumph over Leylah Fernandez at the US Open.
The British tennis player – who was only 18 at the time – became not only the tournament’s champions, but the people’s champions.
The 24,000-seater Arthur Ashe Stadium erupted as she sent down an ace on a third match point to overcome the Canadian 6-4 6-3 in a pulsating hour and 51 minutes.
Raducanu subsequently became Britain’s first women’s Grand Slam champion since Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in the Jubilee year of 1977.
For her endeavours Raducanu earned £1.81 million – more than seven times the total of her prize money she had pocketed during the rest of her career. That speaks of her astonishing rise, as she also became the first woman to win the title in only her second Grand Slam.
Emma Raducanu’s name went up in lights following her spectacular triumph at the US Open
The ghost town of the Olympics in Tokyo
Hosting cities spend millions of on stadiums, athlete housing and fan zones in the build-up to an Olympic Games. However, it is usually worth it when supporters come flocking in to watch their favourite competitors pick up a medal at the inaugural Games.
Unfortunately, the same can not be said for the Tokyo 2020 Games. The Covid-19 pandemic saw the Olympic Games take place behind closed doors. The empty grounds and gated areas made the site look like an abandoned complex rather than a venue for a major international competition.
The 2020 Fan Park was supposed to be brimming with life and energy – an area where fans could go and enjoy food and drink, while taking part in a variety of experiences before heading off to watch their favourite athletes in action.
Instead, it was closed and lifeless – zapping any form of energy and excitement about the upcoming Games away. Nevertheless, the unsettling atmosphere did not stand in the way of the athletes – who still managed to put on quite the show.
There was plenty for Team GB to smile about following the competition as they matched their medal total from London 2012 on the final day of the Tokyo Games.
Jason Kenny’s record-breaking gold medal moved GB up to 64 medals, while Lauren Price victory in the middleweight final allowed them to replicate history.
As a result, Team GB finished fourth in the Tokyo medals table with 22 gold, 21 silver and 22 bronze medals for a total of 65.
It made Tokyo their second-most successful Olympics overseas after the contingent won 67 medals in the Rio de Janeiro Games five years ago.
The empty grounds and gated areas made the Olympic park look like an abandoned complex rather than a venue for a major international competition
Lionel Messi’s emotional farewell to Barcelona
A picture we never thought we’d see…Lionel Messi bidding farewell to Barcelona. It comes as no surprise the Argentine was reduced to tears in his final press conference given his long-standing history with the club.
Messi – who won 35 trophies during his time at Barcelona – started to cry before he even began his goodbye speech at the Nou Camp in August. He revealed how he was leaving Barcelona after the club said it could no longer afford to pay his high wages.
The decision came as a blow to Messi, who has been cast among the greatest players to ever grace the game. Despite scoring 663 goals for Barcelona – the most ever scored by a player for one club – Messi was not done with the Catalan giants.
He was ready to break more records and add to the 467 goals and 48 hat-tricks he managed in LaLiga. However, it was not meant to be.
A picture we never thought we’d see…Lionel Messi bidding farewell to Barcelona (above)
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton’s close call
British Formula One star Lewis Hamilton was inches away from tragedy at the Italian Grand Prix as his title rival Max Verstappen’s car flew over his head.
Verstappen’s Red Bull car launched off a ramped curb at Monza and onto the top of Hamilton’s Mercedes, with only the protective Halo device preventing the former world champion from serious injury.
The Red Bull car went nose-first into the gravel with both drivers emerging from the carnage unscathed in one of many dramatic twists during their heated world championship duel.
The Dutchman was subsequently handed a three-grid penalty for the Russian Grand Prix.
British Formula One star Lewis Hamilton was inches from tragedy at the Italian Grand Prix
AJ losing his WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight titles
Anthony Joshua’s reign as the world heavyweight champion was ended and his ‘Battle of Britain’ fight against Tyson Fury was in tatters after Oleksandr Usyk claimed a stunning unanimous decision win at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in September.
Usyk was giving up three inches in height and another one in reach, as well as nearly 20lbs in weight, but the former undisputed world cruiserweight champion’s technical acumen came to the fore in an electric atmosphere in London.
As well as giving up several physical advantages to Joshua, Usyk had to contend with the hostile atmosphere that greeted his entrance to the ring from the more than 62,000 that attended this bout.
Nevertheless, he held his nerve and saw off Joshua with the final scores standing at 117-112, 116-112 and 115-113. As a result, Joshua was forced to hand over his IBF, IBO, WBA and WBO titles to the Ukrainian.
Anthony Joshua’s reign as world heavyweight champion was ended earlier this year (above)
Simone Biles withdrawing from the Olympic Games
US gymnast Simone Biles – who won four gold medals at the Rio 2016 Games, including the individual all-around title – decided not to defend her title at Tokyo as she needed to ‘focus on her mental health’.
Having completed just one event in the team final – a vault that she flubbed and nearly crash-landed on – Biles withdrew from the all-around, uneven bars, vault, and floor exercise line-ups after consulting with the USA Gymnastics officials.
Her decision sparked furious controversy online, with some praising her for prioritising her mental health, while others accused the two-time Olympian of ‘quitting’ and ‘abandoning’ her teammates.
But while Biles had to deal with criticism online, she says the response to her withdrawal inside the Olympic Village was actually much more positive than she’d been expecting, admitting that she thought she would face ‘backlash and embarrassment’ over her decision.
In fact, the gymnast says ‘pulling back’ from gymnastics gave her an opportunity for the first time to make herself known for something other than her sporting achievements – having spent years only gaining praise and recognition for her medal wins and athletic skills.
US gymnast Simone Biles pulled out of the Games as she needed to ‘focus on her mental health
Ibrahim Hamadtou’s Paralympic performance
Egyptian table tennis star Ibrahim Hamadtou’s arms were amputated when he was only ten years old after a train accident. He went on to take up table tennis three years after in 1986 and holds his bat in his mouth.
Since making his competitive debut in 2004, he has won silver medals in para table tennis at the 2011 and 2013 African Championships and at the 2013 Egypt Open. He also left fans around the world mesmerised by his technique at Rio in 2016.
Hamadtou went on to wow supporters against Korean Park Hong-Kyu in class 6 – reserved for athletes with severe deficiencies in their arms and legs – at the Tokyo Paralympics.
Unfortunately, Hamadtou lost his opening Group E men’s singles game in the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium 3-0 but that didn’t stop him from inspiring onlookers.
‘This is incredible,’ comedian Omad Djalili posted on Twitter. ’48 year old Egyptian Paralympian Ibrahim Hamadtou who lost his arms in a train accident aged 10 in Tokyo today. Could have played football but took up table tennis “as a challenge.” How inspiring is this?’
Egyptian table tennis star Ibrahim Hamadtou inspired the world with his performance
Tom Daley’s emotional podium moment
Tom Daley became the first British diver in history to win three Olympic medals as he claimed gold with partner Matty Lee in the synchronised 10 metres platform at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
The 27-year-old had previously won the bronze medal at both the 2012 and 2016 Games but worried he would never get his hands on the gold.
Daley and Lee, who was making his Olympic debut, were trailing behind China in the first three of the six rounds but finished strong to end up on top.
The British duo were made to face an agonising wait to secure gold as Chinese rivals, Chen Aisen and Cao Yuan, put in a brilliant final dive but they needed 9.6 to win it and failed to do so.
Daley – who became the first British diver in history to win three Olympic medals – was overcome with emotion at the medal ceremony when Lee put the award around his neck.
Tom Daley became the first GB diver to win three Olympic medals as he claimed gold at Tokyo
The Gypsy King doing his thing against Deontay Wilder
Tyson Fury’s bout with Deontay Wilder was being labelled as one of the all-time great heavyweight fights. However, the Gypsy King made light work of knocking the American out in Las Vegas.
Wilder suffered the second loss of his boxing career against Fury, who was also the first man to breach his unbeaten record in February 2020.
Wilder was immediately taken to a Nevada hospital to be checked over after the bruising encounter and underwent surgery on a broken hand.
The Bronze Bomber was also handed a six-month medical suspension in the aftermath of his knockout defeat.
He is now said to be toying with the idea of retiring after his trilogy defeat against Fury, despite vowing that ‘the best is yet to come’.
Tyson Fury (left) made light work of knocking Deontay Wilder out in Las Vegas (bottom)
Katarina Johnson-Thompson breaks down on the track
Team GB star Katarina Johnson-Thompson suffered heartbreak at the Tokyo Olympic Games after sustaining a devastating calf injury in the 200m of the women’s heptathlon.
In emotive scenes at the Olympic Stadium, Johnson-Thompson refused a wheelchair when she was stricken on the track, and instead insisted on finishing without any assistance before withdrawing from the competition.
She explained her reasoning on Instagram shortly after saying: ‘I started the year in a wheelchair and I was not willing to end my Olympic campaign the same way.
‘To make it to the line was a miracle, not only to do that but to be on my way to putting a decent score together is heartbreaking. I truly believed I was capable of winning a medal despite having up to half a year of missed training.
‘More than ever I’m proud that I showed up, put myself out there and tried. It would have been very easy to shy away and pull out, to say I wasn’t ready and blame the injury, but I’m not that type of athlete or person. I am a fighter. I’m gritty and I find it extremely hard to give up.
‘I’ve sacrificed so much, moving my entire life to France five years ago, away from my family and friends. I’ve lost heart knowing that the work my team and I have done for this last eight months was for this outcome and I hate that my story has played out in more heartbreak.
‘I’ve been knocked so many times and got back up, but it will take a lot of time for me to process this reality.’
Team GB star Katarina Johnson-Thompson suffered heartbreak at the Tokyo Olympic Games
Marcus Rashford moving mural moment
A mural of Marcus Rashford in his home town of Withington was defaced in a ‘racially aggravated’ act of vandalism following the European Championship. However, what happened next was heart warming.
Fans and well-wishers covered the graffiti that was sprayed over his Manchester mural with loving notes in the wake of his Euro 2020 penalty heartache.
The Manchester United star said he was left ‘close to tears’ after the local residents redecorated his mural with hearts and messages calling him a ‘hero’ and a ‘role model’.
The messages will now be preserved in a virtual ‘Wall of Hope’, as well as a new ‘Hope Beats Hate’ mural at nearby Kingsway Football Club, commissioned by Withington Walls in partnership with BT’s Hope United campaign.
Speaking about their support in an open letter posted on his Twitter account, the star said: ‘The messages I have received have been positively overwhelming and seeing the response in Withington had me on the verge of tears.
‘The communities that always wrapped their arms around me continue to hold me up. I’m a 23-year-old black man from Withington and Wythenshawe, South Manchester. If I have nothing else, I have that.’
A mural of Marcus Rashford in his home town of Withington was defaced in a ‘racially aggravated’ act of vandalism but what happened next was heart warming
Great Britain’s extraordinary clash with Denmark
Great Britain’s 13-year reign as Olympic champions in the men’s team pursuit ended after two extraordinary clashes with Denmark at the Tokyo Olympic Games in the summer.
The competition started with Team GB trying to kick their semi-final rivals out of the competition for wearing illegal kit in the qualifying round. It then went on to see Denmark’s Frederik Madsen riding into the back of Britain’s Charlie Tanfield, causing a crash which initially left the race result in doubt.
The Dane got to his feet and angrily shouted at his opponent despite being the one at fault, while the injured Tanfield bravely got back on his bike to finish the race, knowing that three riders are needed to complete the full 4km distance to register a result.
After reviewing the incident, the UCI felt that Denmark should advance to the final against Italy – meaning Team GB would be without in the men’s team pursuit for the first time in six Games.
The decision made by cycling’s governing body left a bitter taste in the mouth of the British bosses, who felt the Danes should have been disqualified on two counts.
Great Britain’s 13-year reign as Olympic champions in the men’s team pursuit ended
Manchester United fans storm Old Trafford
Hundreds of Manchester United supporters stormed the pitch at Old Trafford ahead of their game against Liverpool in protest at the club’s American owners, the Glazer family, after news of the European Super League was announced.
Corner flags and 25 match balls were taken by the supporters, who also threw a flare at the Sky Sports gantry and smashed a television camera while inside the ground.
Speaking after the incident, fans said that they felt ‘sidelined and ignored’ after United were criticised for their role in trying to launch the break-away European Super League.
A total of 12 European clubs – including United and the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ – had planned to take part in the unpopular competition.
United co-chairman Joel Glazer, who hadn’t attended a United game since April 2019, insisted in a statement that the Super League would ‘increase financial support for the wider football pyramid’.
However, fans were quick to make their stance clear and Manchester United withdrew from the competition saying: ‘We have listened carefully to the reaction from our fans, the UK government and other key stakeholders.’
Hundreds of of Manchester United supporters stormed the pitch at Old Trafford in protest
Schleu’s heart break after Saint Boy refused to jump
Annika Schleu’s hopes of winning a medal in the pentathlon at the Tokyo Olympic Games were ended in harrowing fashion after her horse Saint Boy refused to jump.
Schleu, who was representing Germany, entered the event with a commanding lead and looked set to take home the gold medal before things went horribly wrong.
Her horse appeared spooked before and after entering the arena, and aimlessly made his way around the challenging course while refusing several jumps.
Coverage seemingly showed an emotional Schleu, 31, in floods of tears before even beginning her performance. While on top of her mount, she looked to get the panicked Saint Boy to co-operate using her whip.
Having then made their way into the arena, Schleu set about attempting to salvage her dreams of a podium finish. However, despite the horse clearing four sets of hurdles to begin with, he then collided with the fifth.
That brought a rapid end to her lead, and Saint Boy then buckled despite Schleu looking to guide him around the course for another go. In the end, she was made to finish with zero points, leaving her rock bottom.
Having narrowly missed out on a medal in Rio 2016, after finishing fourth, Schleu was again left devastated. Her tears were broadcast for all to see as Saint Boy jumped around, remaining alarmed and in no fit state to compete.
Annika Schleu was reduced to tears after her horse Saint Boy refused to jump in the pentathlon