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.