Nominees- Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year Award

Viva la revolución – celebrating the year of the upset
The revolution was televised. It was a year for upsets and upstarts; a 12-month period in which a new generation of breathtaking talents gave us a thrilling glimpse of a future beyond the champions who have defined an era. In 2021, our nominees for the Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year Award changed the landscape of their sport.
It was a time when youngsters – some known and others not so much – fell from the clouds, full of the exuberance that flows when the fear of failure evaporates courtesy of a ripping forehand down the line, a monster jump, or a surge away from a seven-time Olympic champion in the pool.
Each nominee reminded us that nothing lasts for ever in sport; the greatest champions and the most daunting records fall eventually.
Take Neeraj Chopra. As an overweight teenager, a trip to the gym changed his life. Soon he was mixing with field athletes who introduced him to the javelin. By the time he was 18 Chopra was world under-20 champion with a world record mark stashed in his throwing belt. In Tokyo last summer, the 23-year-old became only the second Indian to win Olympic gold – and the first in athletics – becoming an inspiration and hero to millions, and all the time retaining a humility and sense of perspective which puts him well beyond his years.

Just like life, a true champion in sports is one that comes back stronger from a setback.

Neeraj Chopra

Australian Ariarne Titmus grew up idolising Katie Ledecky, owner of 10 Olympic swimming medals and a trio of world records. In Tokyo, Titmus lined up against her hero in two finals, beating Ledecky twice in three days in the 200m and 400m freestyle, breaking the Olympic record in the former.

If Titmus’s success had been signposted by a win over Ledecky in 2019, very few anticipated tennis player Emma Raducanu’s victory at the US Open. No qualifier at a Grand Slam event had ever gone all the way but that’s just what Raducanu did, lighting up the New York courts with a quixotic mix of blistering tennis and winning smiles. But it wasn’t just her camera-friendly persona that helped crown her Queen of Queens. The 18-year-old was a smiling assassin as she dismantled opponents in ruthless fashion, not dropping a single set on her way to victory in the final over Layla Fernandez.
The winner of the men’s event at Flushing Meadows fell into a different category of breakthrough winner. Nevertheless, Daniil Medvedev had a 2021 that was just as unforeseen as Raducanu’s. The 25-year-old ended Novak Djokovic’s bid for a calendar Grand Slam in New York and finished the year as world No.2, after also reaching the final of the Australian Open. 

The more you lose something, the more you want to win it. The more you want to gain it and take it.

Daniil Medvedev
While the strides made by the Russian were figurative, another 25-year-old literally took a giant leap forward. Triple-jumper Yulimar Rojas smashed a world record that had stood for 26 years on her way to becoming the first Venezuelan to win an Olympic athletics gold, eclipsing the mark set by Ukraine's Inessa Kravets by 17 centimetres.
As the duopoly of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo nears its end, one player emerged in 2021 who looked capable of claiming their mantle as the world’s best footballer. Pedri, just 19, was the creative force as Spain reached the European Championship semi-finals and claimed Olympic silver in Tokyo. Renowned for his creativity and vision, the Barcelona midfielder’s value to the Catalan side was apparent in his 53 appearances last season (and the €1billion release clause the club inserted in a recent contract extension).
The next cast of sporting greats took their first major steps in 2021. Viva la revolución.

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