2021 Athlete of the Year Ballot


Canelo Alvarez, boxing, Mexico
Mexican boxer Canelo Alvarez defeated American Caleb Plant by eleventh round TKO and exited the ring as boxing’s undisputed middleweight champion – holding all four title belts in the weight class. Alvarez (57-1-2, 39 TKOs) is just the sixth fighter to unify all belts in one division in the four-belt era.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, basketball, Greece
Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo earned 2021 NBA Finals MVP honors after averaging 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.8 blocks as the Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns in six games to win the league championship. He finished the season averaging 28.1 points and 11.0 rebounds per game.

Tom Brady, football, United States
Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady earned Super Bowl MVP honors for the fifth time in his career after leading the Buccaneers to a 31-9 win against the Kansas City Chiefs in Tampa. Brady completed 21 of 29 passes for 201 and three touchdowns with a 125.8 passer rating in the win, his NFL record seventh Lombardi Trophy in 10 trips to the Super Bowl.

Ryan Crouser, athletics, United States
American shot put thrower Ryan Crouser set two world records, broke an Olympic record and went undefeated with 16 victories in 2021. Crouser set world records in outdoor competition with a throw of 23.37m and indoors with a throw of 22.82m. At the Tokyo Summer Olympics, Crouser set an Olympic record with a throw of 23.30m to win gold and currently has a two-season unbeaten streak of 27 consecutive victories. Finally, Crouser’s 58 throws beyond 22 meters in 2021 are more than any other shot put thrower across an entire career.

Novak Djokovic, tennis, Serbia
Novak Djokovic finished 2021 as the top-ranked player on the ATP Tour, giving the Serbian sole possession of the most year-end No. 1 finishes in history with seven – passing Pete Sampras. Djokovic finished the season with a 49-6 record and captured three major titles at the Australian Open, Roland Garros, and Wimbledon.

Caeleb Dressel, swimming, United States
American swimmer Caeleb Dressel became just the fourth man in history to win five gold medals in a single Olympics after finishing with wins in the 100m freestyle, 100m butterfly, 50m freestyle, 4×100 freestyle and 4×100 medley events at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in July. He broke his own world record in the 100m butterfly with a time of 49.25 seconds and set Olympic records in both the 100m freestyle (47.02 seconds) and 50m freestyle (21.07 seconds).

Eliud Kipchoge, marathon, Kenya
Kenyan long-distance runner Eliud Kipchoge repeated as the Olympic men’s marathon champion with a time of 2:08:38 at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in August. Kipchoge’s winning margin of 1:20 was the widest in an Olympic marathon since Frank Shorter’s win in 1972. He is just the third man to successfully defend their marathon gold medal in successive Olympics.

Lionel Messi, football (soccer), Argentina
Argentina’s Lionel Messi won his record seventh men’s Ballon D’Or award as the top men’s soccer player in the world for 2021. Messi scored 40 goals at the club and international levels and helped Argentina win the 2021 Copa America championship. He also won the Pichichi Trophy – given to the top goal scorer in La Liga – for the record eighth time in his career.

Shohei Ohtani, baseball, Japan
Japan’s Shohei Ohtani earned unanimous American League MVP honors after starring as a two-way player for the Los Angeles Angels in 2021. Ohtani became the first player in baseball history to hit at least 30 home runs in the same year he made at least 10 pitching appearances. He hit 46 home runs with a .965 OPS with eight triples and 26 stolen bases. He is just the sixth player ever with at least 45 home runs and 25 stolen bases in the same season. As a pitcher, Ohtani finished with a 3.18 ERA with 156 strikeouts and just 44 walks. According to Baseball-Reference, Ohtani was worth 9.1 wins above replacement, a mark significantly higher than any other play this season.

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Andrei Vasilevskiy, hockey, Russia
Tampa Bay Lightning goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the Stanley Cup Finals and NHL postseason after recording five shutouts in the playoffs. His Stanley Cup Finals game 5 shutout with 22 saves sealed Tampa Bay’s second consecutive Stanley Cup Trophy.

Karsten Warholm, athletics, Norway
Norway’s Karsten Warholm set a world record with a time of 45.94 seconds and won gold in the men’s 400m hurdles at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Warholm’s time, the first sub-46 second time ever in the event, was faster than 18 runners in the men’s 400m without hurdles. The time also broke the previous world record set by Warholm himself in Oslo in competition before the Olympics. For the feat, Warholm was the 2021 World Athletics Male Athlete of the Year.

Bryce Young, football, United States
University of Alabama sophomore quarterback Bryce Young won the Heisman Trophy, given annually to the best player in college football, after leading the Crimson Tide to an 12-1 regular season record, a Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championship, and a top-seeded berth in the College Football Playoff. Young passed for 4,478 yards with 44 touchdowns to just four interceptions in the regular season. On November 20, Young broke the Alabama school record for passing yards in a game with 559 and five touchdowns against Arkansas. He also set an SEC Championship record with 421 yards against then top-ranked Georgia in December.


Ashleigh Barty, tennis, Australia
Australian Ashleigh Barty won a tour-leading five tennis titles in 2021, including her second Grand Slam championship with a win against the Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova at Wimbledon in July. Barty also triumphed at tournaments in Miami, Melbourne, Stuttgart, and Cincinnati and finished with her third consecutive year ending No. 1 ranking.

Jessie Diggins, cross-country skiing, United States
In March Jessie Diggins became the first American woman to the overall World Cup title in cross-country skiing. The title capped a remarkable season for Diggins, who previously became the first American – male or female – to win the Tour de Ski.

Brittney Griner, basketball, United States
American center Brittney Griner scored 30 points to lead the U.S. women’s national team to a 90-75 win against Japan in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics women’s basketball final on 8 August 2021. Griner’s 30 points were an Olympic record for a gold medal game.

Peres Jepchirchir, running, Kenya
Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir became the first Olympic marathon champion to win the New York City Marathon in the same year when she crossed the finish line first on 7 November 2021. Jepchirchir – who won gold in the marathon at Tokyo 2020 – crossed the finish line in New York with a winning time of 2:22:39.

Lee Kiefer, fencing, United States
Lee Kiefer became the first American man or woman to win Olympic gold in individual foil fencing after defeating defending champion Inna Deriglazova of the Russian Olympic Committee 15.13 in the championship final at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in July.

Nelly Korda, golf, United States
American golfer Nelly Korda won five titles in 2021, including the women’s tournament gold medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games with a 17-under 267 score. Korda became the first golfer to win the Olympic title and a major championship – the Women’s PGA Championship in June – in the same year.

Katie Ledecky, swimming, United States
American swimmer Katie Ledecky won two gold and two silver medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in July. Ledecky won her third consecutive 800m freestyle Olympic gold with a time of 8:12.57 and won the 1500m freestyle with a time of 15.37.34. She took silver in the 400m freestyle and the 4×200 freestyle.

Sunisa Lee, gymnastics, United States
American gymnast Sunisa Lee won the women’s gymnastics all-around gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in July with a total score of 57.433. Lee is the fifth consecutive American woman to win the Olympics all-around title.

Sydney McLaughlin, athletics, United States
America’s Sydney McLaughlin broke her own world record and the Olympic record and won gold with a time of 51.46 seconds in the women’s 400m hurdles at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in August. McLaughlin held off compatriot Dalilah Muhammad, whose time of 51.58 would have also broken McLaughlin’s previous record of 51.90. McLaughlin was also part of the American 4 x 400m relay gold medal team.

Athing Mu, athletics, United States
American teenager Athing Mu finished the 2021 season undefeated in 800m events including a gold medal in the distance at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics with a time of 1:55.21. She also won gold as a member of the American 4x400m relay team. At the 2021 NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore., Mu broke her own collegiate all-time record in the 400m with a time of 49.57 and anchored the Texas A&M women’s 4x400m relay team to the national title.

Alexia Putellas, football (soccer), Spain
Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas earned the women’s Ballon D’Or trophy as the top women’s soccer player in the world for 2021. Putellas, the Barcelona captain, helped the team to a domestic double with championships in the Primera Division and Copa de la Reina this year. She also captained the club to the UEFA Women’s Champions League title. She was the first Spanish woman to win the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year award. She ended the 2020-2021 season as the highest goal-scoring midfielder with 26 goals in all competitions.

Elaine Thompson-Herah, athletics, Jamaica
Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah produced a historic sprint season after repeating as Olympic champion in the 100m and 200m sprint races and adding a third gold medal in the 4×100 relay at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Thompson-Herah was the 2021 World Athletics Female Athlete of the Year. She capped a phenomenal season with a Diamond League crown and Weltklasse Zurich 100m record of 10.65 in September.