Only the Brave - Laureus World Action Sportsperson of the Year

For these athletes, the stakes are that little bit higher – the Nominees for the Laureus World Action Sportsperson of the Year Award dodged the pitfalls to claim gold  
What do we look for from our action heroes? Someone who puts their body on the line on achieve an improbable goal? Superhuman feats that defy gravity and leave the casual observer breathless? An apparent indestructibility – an ability to waltz through the most perilous of situations and come back fresh for the next challenge? The six athletes nominated for the Laureus World Action Sportsperson of the Year tick every box.

Their stories, however, are not the same. They range from a 14-year-old skateboarder with the world at her feet, to a 35-year surfer who in 2022 made a case as the greatest of all time. They took to the slopes in Beijing; they rode the waves in Nazare; they skateboarded their way across the USA. They may not line up on the track or face their adversaries over the net, but this group include Olympians and internationally-known superstars. Our action heroes are for real.

Chloe Kim is still only 22, but the American snowboarder has already compiled a list of achievements that most athletes would happily retire on – including twice winning this Award. In 2022 she successfully defended her Olympic gold medal in the halfpipe competition – a first for a female snowboarder. She also dropped into the Fortnite universe, as her likeness was available to players of one of the world’s most popular video games. 

The slopes of Beijing were also the site for the pinnacle of Eileen Gu’s sporting year. Aged 18, she became the youngest gold medallist in the history of freestyle skiing at the Winter Olympics – and the Chinese athlete managed to do it twice. She took first place in both the big air and halfpipe events, and added silver slopestyle, becoming the first freestyle skier to win three medals at the same Olympics. Gu also won two crystal globes in the World Cup, including one for a perfect record across the four rounds of the halfpipe competition. Her progress and the breakout nature of her success even gave Gu a place on Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people list. Her profile in the edition began: ‘It’s hard for athletes … to transcend their sport. Eileen Gu is an exception to that rule.’ 
At 15, Rayssa Leal is the junior member of our shortlist, although she has a link with the Laureus World Sports Academy that began when she was seven, and Academy Member Tony Hawk reposted a video filmed by Leal’s mother of her young daughter performing a heelflip. ‘A fairytale-style heelflip in Brazil’ is how Hawk described it at the time. Fadinha, they call her still. Little Fairy. But the Little Fairy made big strides in 2022, winning street gold in both the X Games, in Chiba, and the World Championship, sealed in front of a home crowd in Rio. 

Our remaining three Nominees could be found in the surf in 2022. Justine Dupont has long established herself as the best female big-wave surfer in the world, and this year she challenged her male peers, too. The 31-year-old from France was the best in class at the 2022 Red Bull Big Wave Awards, winning two awards and earning nominations in every category. She won the Biggest Tow Award – recognising the surfer who caught the biggest wave of the year by any means – for her January 2022 ride at Nazare, Portugal. 

The waves caught by Filipe Toledo were not the giants that feature on Dupont’s incredible highlights reel, but he attacked them with trademark speed and fearlessness as he won his first world championship, at the age of 27. After wins at the Rip Curl Pro in Australia and the Oi Rio Pro in his native Brazil, Toledo faced off against his compatriot and Olympic shortboard champion, Italo Ferreira, at the World Surf League Finals in Lower Trestles, California, winning the best-of-three title match 2-0 in a career-defining moment. 

Finally, and remaining on the beaches of Lower Trestles, the women’s title match saw a clash of the two titans of the sport: Olympic champion, and five-time and defending world champion Carissa Moore, versus Stephanie Gilmore, going for a record eighth world title. Gilmore came out on top, claiming her first world title since 2018 and establishing a new mark for women surfers. 

How do you compare action heroes? All of our Nominees thrill us by competing on the edge. Their version of sporting excellence is performed for high stakes. One false move and the concrete, or the ice, or that ferocious, looming wave will take its toll. These are the brave ones. 

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