Never Give Up: The 2022 Laureus World Sports Awards Celebrate Champions who Triumphed in Adversity

The winners at the 22nd Laureus World Sports Awards included some of the greatest athletes in the world, but this year we were reminded not only of their historic achievements, but also the strength of character required to reach the summit of their sport.
The image that lasts longest is often from the moment of triumph. But the stories that were celebrated at a ceremony broadcast all over the world from the beautiful city of Seville included not just the glory but the adversity: the cyclist carried off the track by her teammate after collapsing at the finish line; the skateboarder climbing aboard an Olympic podium after a crash the previous year that fractured her skull; the driver who emerged from the greatest season-long duel Formula One has seen to claim his first world title.
The 2022 Awards also recognised the inspirational work done by people and organisations to improve lives through the power of sport: the former international footballer turned documentary maker whose film told the story of racism in sport; the US-based youth baseball programme changing the lives of at-risk children in one of Chicago’s most dangerous neighbourhoods; and the global foundation reaching over a million lives under the umbrella of one of the most famous names in all of sport.
These Awards are unique because of the jury that selects each Winner: the Laureus World Sports Academy, made up of 71 of the greatest athletes alive, and a group which understands from experience the sacrifices and the pain that are the cost of greatness. In an evening full of guest appearances from these sporting legends, our host was Lindsey Vonn, herself a member of the Laureus Academy after an unparalleled career in skiing.
Emma Raducanu was the first athlete to pick up an Award. The teenager rewrote history by becoming the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam, overcoming every precedent to win the US Open title in Flushing Meadows in August 2021. Raducanu won the Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year Award and her rapid rise from sporting unknown to Grand Slam champion was heralded by Li Na, the Laureus Academy member and two-time Grand Slam tennis champion (and herself a Laureus Award recipient), who sent her a message of congratulations along with legendary editor of Vogue, Dame Anna Wintour.
While Raducanu exploded to the top of her sport, our next winner has been prolific in his for well over a decade. The Laureus Academy Exceptional Achievement Award went to Robert Lewandowski, the Bayern Munich and Poland striker, who played a key role in his club’s ninth successive league title and picked up the European Golden Shoe after breaking Gerd Muller’s 49-year Bundesliga goalscoring record. That he surpassed that milestone in the last minute of the last day of the season spoke to the Polish striker’s determination as much as his unrivalled penalty-box instincts. The esteem in which Lewandowski is held in the game was evidenced by the personalities who have congratulated him, including Jurgen Klinsmann, Leo Messi and Kylian Mbappé. But this award was not just for Lewandowski’s unstoppable season in front of goal. He also epitomises the spirit at the heart of these unique awards and used his acceptance speech to promote peace. “It means a lot to be recognised and appreciated by legends from all over the world of sport. Professional sport is a great passion and joy but not only fun. Responsibility comes with success. Nelson Mandela said, ‘Sport has the power to change the world’. Let’s remember and repeat this message loudly, especially these days, when innocent people in Ukraine are dying. There is no sport without peace.”
Another football legend, Alessandro del Piero – a member of the Laureus Academy – was on hand to present the trophy to our next winner. It is 15 years since Del Piero and the Italy Men’s Football Team were last recognised by Laureus following their victory at the 2006 World Cup. A new generation of Azzurri heroes followed them at Euro 2020 by winning the tournament in thrilling style and earning their second Laureus World Team of the Year Award. Head coach Roberto Mancini’s attacking style of play stirred the hearts of Italian fans and neutrals alike, as they swept to victory with an impressive 13 goals to finish as the tournament’s joint-top scorers. That they managed to beat England in the final in front of a partisan crowd at Wembley spoke to their strength of character as much as their world-class talent. In a year when the perseverance of champions was so often rewarded with last-gasp victories, it was fitting that Italy’s success came after 120 minutes and penalties. “It’s coming to Rome!” shouted Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci into a TV camera after the 3-2 shootout victory, a mischievous reference to the song that had rang around Wembley and much of England all summer long. Bonucci and his central defensive partner Giorgio Chiellini were delighted to accept the award. “Last year was fantastic for us. For myself and my teammates we are very happy to achieve this award.”
If the courage to compete until the very end, to not lose hope in the face of extreme adversity, is a mark of sporting greatness, then few embodied it more than Max Verstappen in 2021. The Dutchman secured his first World Championship at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December, but it was the circumstances of his victory that resonated around the world and earned him the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year Award. After a season-long duel with Lewis Hamilton, Verstappen scripted a Hollywood ending by overtaking his arch-rival and reigning champion at turn five on the final lap after a safety car had allowed him to close what had appeared to be an insurmountable gap between them. It was a fitting finale to a remarkable season in which Verstappen’s strength of character carried him to a record 18 podium finishes, including at the Russian Grand Prix, where he began at the back of the grid and ended with a second-place finish – behind Hamilton. Accepting his Award from football legend and Laureus Academy member Ruud Gullit, Verstappen said: “It was a very crazy and hectic year, and I was very happy to come out on top. It was my dream come true, what I worked for from a very young age. There’s a whole team behind me, so many people working on basically two cars to give me that opportunity to win the Championship and this Award.”

It’s okay to fall sometimes and I’m just going to get back up and push even harder.

Skateboard star Sky Brown’s story can be told in days, months and years. In August 2021, aged 13 years and 28 days, she finished third in the park final to win a bronze medal for Britain at the Tokyo Olympics, making her Britain's youngest-ever Olympic medallist. But 14 months is the timescale which is most relevant to her winning the Laureus World Comeback of the Year Award. In June 2020, the teenager suffered a skull fracture when she landed headfirst from a half-pipe in training. She was unresponsive when she arrived at hospital. It took painful rehabilitation and mental strength to not only jump back on the board but return to competition. In the Olympic final she made mistakes in her first two runs but composed herself to pull off a kickflip indy – the trick that had proved her undoing in previous attempts – in her final run to claim bronze in daring fashion.
Before Brown accepted her award from pro skateboarder Christian Hosoi, viewers watched chilling footage of the moments leading up to her fall, followed by film of her lying in a hospital bed with a black eye, insisting that “it’s okay to fall sometimes and I’m just going to get back up and push even harder”. 13 years, 28 days. 14 months. Three numbers that add up to the most remarkable comeback story of 2021.
Adversity of a quite different kind has stalked Gerald Asamoah’s career and those of the cast of the Black Eagles documentary, which won the Laureus Athlete Advocate of the Year Award. Asamoah – the most successful and prominent black player on the German national team throughout the early 2000s, who scored on his debut for his country – appeared in the 2021 film, which features the experiences of black players in German football. He was joined by many German footballers – including former Borussia Dortmund player Otto Addo and Jamaican-born Beverly Ranger, who played professionally in Germany in the 1970s – to reflect their experiences of racism in that country. “We know there is racism everywhere and we need to change it, that’s the reason we need to talk about it,” said Asamoah on accepting the Award.
Italian motorcycle legend Valentino Rossi may have to add another shelf to his trophy cabinet to accommodate his Laureus Awards. Rossi – who retired in November after a 25-year career – won the Laureus Sporting Icon Award to add to the Laureus Spirit of Sport Award in 2006 and the Laureus World Comeback of the Year Award in 2011. Kelly Slater, the surfing legend and four-time Laureus Award winner, paid tribute to Rossi: “Congratulations on an amazing career. I’ve been inspired by your story and your personality, your career and your success. Congratulations on your award.”
The next award went to Lost Boyz Inc, a remarkable Chicago-based youth baseball project which uses the game to help children avoid the traps of gang violence and poverty that disadvantage so many in their communities. The founder of the programme, LaVonte Stewart, picked up the Laureus Sport For Good Award at Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs. It was presented by Olympic swimming legend Missy Franklin and executive chairman of the Cubs Tom Ricketts, before the Laureus delegation travelled to the city’s South Shore neighbourhood to see the project in action.

Surrounded by children from the programme, LaVonte spoke about how Lost Boyz is now redefining some of the city’s most dangerous neighbourhoods. He added: “We believe that sport has the power to change society and awards like this prove that today.”

Chris Hoy honed the racecraft and speed that earned him six Olympic gold medals inside the National Cycling Centre in Manchester, home to British Cycling. Now a member of the Laureus Academy, Hoy introduced the next Award as he crept inside his old stomping ground to surprise the BMX racer Bethany Shriever with her statuette in the Action Sportsperson of the Year category.
Shriever documented her incredible year, which included gold at the both the Olympics and the World Championships, on her YouTube channel and is as adept in front of the camera as she is on the track but was left temporarily speechless as Hoy interrupted a staged interview shoot to present her with the Award.
The 22-year-old Shriever was honoured not just for her achievement on the track but also her journey to those podiums. When UK Sport cut her funding, she raised £50,000 via crowdfunding to allow her to compete internationally in the build-up to the Olympics, before leaving her job as a teaching assistant and relocating from the south-east of England to Manchester. The pay off for her personal gamble was immense – after holding off the field to take gold in Tokyo, she collapsed to the ground and was carried off the track by her teammate, Kye White. At the World Championships in the Netherlands her victory was even more emphatic as a treacherous crash wiped out the field behind her. It was a year where Shriever set herself apart from the pack.
Rafael Nadal is no stranger to the Laureus World Sports Awards. He has been honoured on eight occasions and in 2021 was named Sportsman of the Year for the sixth time. His return this year, however, was not as one of the best players in the history of tennis, but in a different role: as a lifelong fan of Real Madrid. Nadal presented that giant of European football with the Laureus Sport For Good Society Award in recognition of the work done across the world by the Real Madrid Foundation.
Nadal met with a four former Madrid superstars that stretched across generations: Emilio Butragueño, the former striker who is now director of public relations; Luís Figo, once the world’s most expensive footballer and today a member of the Laureus Academy, legendary club captain and Laureus Academy Member Raúl and Iker Casillas, who won everything as captain of Los Blancos and Spain and is now deputy CEO of the Real Madrid Foundation. They explained the ongoing ambition of an organisation that has established more than 400 social sports programmes, improving the lives of around one million young people across the world since its inauguration 25 years ago.
Next stop: Switzerland, and a meeting between two of that country’s greatest racers. On his bike, Fabian Cancellara was the king of the time trial in a career that included gold medals at both the Olympics and World Championships. Today he is a member of the Laureus Academy, and he visited the training facility of his compatriot, Marcel Hug, to present him with his second Award for Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability Award. Wheelchair racer Hug’s 2021 could scarcely have been better, with four golds from the Paralympics in Tokyo (800m, 1,500m, 5,000m and marathon) plus wins in the marathons of Berlin, Boston and New York. In Oita, Japan, he broke a 22-year-old mark to set a new world record in the marathon.
From the winner of the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award, a message to any aspiring athlete: the quest for perfection never stops. Elaine Thompson-Herah became the first woman to complete the double-double – a successful defence of both the 100m and 200m Olympic titles. In Tokyo, she broke new ground, setting an Olympic record in the 100m final and then adding a third gold, in the 4 x 100m relay, becoming the third sprinter in history to complete that treble. Satisfied? Not quite.
“I have watched that race [the 100m final] about a thousand times and I am very, very proud, but I cannot dwell on the past,” said our winner. “It’s very special, but it’s a memory. I told myself I want to be the greatest female sprinter, so I am going to focus on what the future holds.”
A Lifetime Achievement Award usually means that an athlete’s race is run and a long, well-deserved retirement awaits. Stepping away from the field, however, is proving to be the one task in which Tom Brady fails. The final Winner of the evening was introduced by his friend David Beckham, a perfect example of how this phase of an elite sportsman’s life is supposed to go: Beckham was speaking pitchside at Inter Miami, the Major League Soccer franchise of which he is president. For Brady, it is proving more complicated. Having announced his retirement following the 2021 season, the greatest quarterback the NFL has seen decided he has something left to give the game he loves. However, he could still reflect on a career that has already set new standards in almost every category as he accepted his Award.
“This Award was founded in 2000, when Nelson Mandela said that ‘Sport has the power to change the world,’ and I agree with that. Sport transcends borders, races, religions and ethnicities. It brings so many people together in a positive way. In my view, it brings the best out in individuals.”
As the sun set over Seville and another celebration of all that sport can give us, the message of the 2022 Laureus World Sports Awards was indelible: courage in the face of adversity can inspire success and change lives.

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