Youth v Experience Who will be crowned 2023 Laureus World Sportsman of the Year

The GOATS v The Kids. An age gap divides the Nominees for the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year Award. In the 30-something camp, Lionel Messi (35), Rafael Nadal (36) and Steph Curry (35) – three athletes in the mix to be considered the greatest of all time in their respective sports of football, tennis and basketball.
Then, Kylian Mbappé (24), Mondo Duplantis (23) and Max Verstappen (25) – world-class talents in football, pole vaulting and Formula One who are seeking to build comparable legacies to their older Nominees.  All six are united by their stellar achievements in 2022.
In the case of Messi and Mbappé, the Paris St Germain teammates faced off on the greatest football stage of all – the World Cup final in Qatar in December 2022. Mbappé’s hat-trick in the final helped him to win the Golden Boot as the World Cup’s leading goalscorer, with a total of eight strikes. If it is hard to believe that a 24-year-old who scored three in a World Cup final – the first hat-trick in a final since Geoff Hurst for England in 1966 – still ended up on the losing team, then that is testament to the heroic achievements of Messi in Qatar. 

The Argentine legend collected the one prize that eluded him by leading his country to the third World Cup in their history, scoring two goals in the final. His total of seven strikes – one behind Mbappé, whose 118th-minute strike in the final edged him out of the Golden Boot – and three assists across the tournament inspired his country and earned him the Golden Ball as player of the tournament. Domestically, Messi also won his first trophy with PSG, the Ligue 1 title. Mbappé shared in that league success and also ended the 2021-22 season by becoming the first player in French Ligue 1 to finish a campaign as the leading scorer and assist provider.   
Exactly 12 months separate 35-year-old Messi from our oldest nominee, Rafael Nadal. The 36-year-old continued to defy the passage of time by picking up two Grand Slam titles in an unforgettable year. The Spaniard arrived in Melbourne following a lengthy injury lay-off due to a chronic foot injury and a bout of Covid in December 2021, which left him bedridden. However, rumours of his demise were not only proven to be exaggerated but seemed faintly ridiculous as he stormed his way to the Australian Open title. The five-hour battle against Daniil Medvedev in the final added another match to the pantheon of Nadal epics. Trailing his opponent by two sets, the 36-year-old summoned all his experience and fighting spirit to win the contest in five. Victory saw him overtake Roger Federer and Novak Djokvic as winner of the most men’s singles major titles, with 21.
Nadal’s chronic foot injury bedevilled his preparations for the French Open in May, but the return to the tournament he has dominated since 2005 saw him pull off another superhuman victory. Nadal rallied to pick up his 14th Roland Garros crown – including a memorable five-set quarter-final victory over Djokovic en route to a straight sets win over Casper Ruud in the final. Afterwards, he spoke about the pain management which led to his success. “I had been off the practice courts for a month and a half with a stress fracture on my rib, and then I had a problem with my foot. It stayed there all the time.  We played with no feeling in the foot, with a [pain-killing] injection on the nerve. The foot was asleep, and that’s why I was able to play.”

Curry struck a blow for the elder statesmen and embellished his legendary status by leading the Golden State Warriors to a fourth NBA championship in eight seasons, and the seventh in the history of the franchise. During the season, Curry became the NBA’s all-time leader in career 3-pointers, breaking previous holder Ray Allen’s record in 511 fewer games. He also won the NBA Finals MVP for the first time in his career after his inspirational performances against the Celtics added a fourth ring to his collection. Curry’s first three came in 2015, 2017 and 2018, but there followed a series of injury-blighted campaigns before the cathartic win in 2022. “I thank God every day that I get to play this game at the highest level with some amazing people,” said Curry. “They know this is what it’s all about, playing for a championship, and what we’ve been through the last three years.”
Mondo Duplantis’ stated aims at the beginning of 2022 were to claim indoor and outdoor world titles and beat his own world record. That he managed to accomplish all three marked him out as a true great of his sport. In fact, the young Swede lowered his own world record on three occasions. At the World Championships in Oregon, Duplantis cleared the bar at a height of 6.21m, the first time he had broken his world record outdoors. It saw him overtake vaulting legend Sergey Bubka for career six metre-plus clearances, with 48 compared to Bubka’s 46. However, it was the World Championship medal that Duplantis really wanted, to add to his Olympics and World Indoor Championship golds.  “I did not think about the record,” Duplantis said. “Usually, it is always somewhere in the back of my mind but I really wanted to win the gold so badly. It was the medal I was missing.”

Meanwhile, Max Verstappen secured domination of his own sport of Formula One by picking up a second world championship title with four races to spare. The 25-year-old Dutchman topped the podium in a record-breaking 15 races, beating the previous record of 13 held by Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.  Like 2021 – when he edged out Lewis Hamilton in the final race to claim his first title – Verstappen had to overcome adversity of a different kind to be crowned a double world champion. After three races, he trailed Charles Leclerc by 46 points but retained his composure to dominate the second half of the season. “The emotions are very different [after winning the second world championship]. We won the Drivers, and the Constructors, we had a lot of victories as a team, so I would say this one is better and more rewarding.”

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