The athletes Canadians will remember from 2021

December 28, 2021
The athletes Canadians will remember from 2021


This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

These athletes stood out among the crowd

It felt like sports occurred in a frenzy in 2021, as professional leagues rushed through shortened seasons to get back on regular schedules while the Tokyo Olympics intervened following a one-year delay.

Yet despite the sports overload, some athletes still managed to make lasting impressions. Here’s a few of them:

Leylah Fernandez: The latest teen tennis sensation captured hearts and minds across North America during her run to the U.S. Open final in September. Her success on the court — upsetting the likes of top-10 opponents Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber and Elina Svitolina — in itself was stunning, but Fernandez supplemented it with maturity following each contest, including a powerful post-match speech in New York on 9/11 and a show of grace after her loss to Toronto-born Emma Raducanu in the final. For her efforts, Fernandez was named the Canadian Press female athlete of the year today. Read more about Fernandez in this profile from February by CBC Sports contributor Vivek Jacob.

Carey Price: First, the longtime Canadiens goalie backstopped Montreal to a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final, including a 3-1 first-round comeback against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs. But Price, 34, will be remembered for his courage ahead of the following season when he voluntarily entered the league’s player assistance program for substance-abuse treatment. “Asking for help when you need it is what we encourage our kids to do. And it was what I needed to do,” he wrote. The future Hall of Famer is now working his way back into game shape with the team, and could make his return soon.

Simone Biles: Perhaps the biggest non-Canadian star heading into Tokyo 2020, Biles was expected to land on the podium in each of the five gymnastics events. She wound up with just two medals, but more memorably introduced many to a new term: the twisties. That’s what Biles said happened when she lost air awareness in the middle of a move during the team final — a mental block, like the yips. The 24-year-old then withdrew from three individual events before returning for the balance beam final and taking bronze. Biles said she was empowered to step aside by Osaka, the similarly successful star athlete who withdrew from tennis majors earlier in the year citing her mental health. Read more about Biles’ Olympics and its impact on Canadians here.

Penny Oleksiak, Damian Warner and Andre De Grasse: The standout Canadian individual athletes from Tokyo 2020. Oleksiak became the most decorated Canadian Olympian of all-time, adding three medals to her previous total of four from Rio 2016 to cement her legacy in the pool. Warner broke the Olympic decathlon record, becoming the fourth athlete to crack the 9,000-point barrier en route to gold and the Lou Marsh Trophy as the top Canadian athlete in 2021. And it was the best of both worlds for De Grasse, who won his first career Olympic gold in the 200 metres among three medals, putting him at six for his career to set the record for a Canadian man. CBC Sports’ Marcus Rebelo recalled some other memorable moments from the year here.

Canada’s women’s soccer team: OK, we’re cheating a bit here, but it’s nearly impossible to pick just one member of the team. From Steph Labbé’s precocious performance in net to Christine Sinclair’s steady leadership to Julia Grosso’s winning strike, the Olympic gold medal was the embodiment of a team effort, and the culmination of a rally cry to change the colour of the two bronze medals earned in 2012 and 2016. Not to be forgotten is the men’s national team, where superstar Alphonso Davies has Canada on the verge of a long-awaited World Cup berth. Read more about the breakthrough year in Canadian soccer in this piece by CBC Sports contributor John Molinaro.

WATCH | Canadian Soccer’s top 5 moments of 2021:

Canadian Soccer’s Top 5 Moments of 2021

Moments from Alphonso Davies, Steph Labbé, Julia Grosso, Sam Adekugbe and Jessie Fleming all made the list in a blockbuster year for the Canadian national soccer teams. Relive the best moments from 2021 with CBC’s Signa Butler and Between the Sticks’ Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic. 6:38

Kyle Lowry: The lasting image of Lowry on the Raptors will always be his championship celebration, but 2021 proved just how much the Greatest Raptor Of All Time meant to the franchise. Despite trade rumours aplenty, Lowry remained with the team at the deadline in March, leading to a passionate press conference from team president Masai Ujiri in which he emphasized Lowry’s singular value to the club. The eventual break-up occurred in the off-season when Lowry was shipped to Miami. It might have been the first time a Raptors star left the team on good terms, and Lowry has already said he’ll retire in Toronto. His first return to the city is scheduled for Feb. 3.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.: The Montreal-born slugger lived up to the hype associated with both his prospect status and name in 2021 — and then some. The Toronto Blue Jays first baseman placed second in AL MVP voting (behind dual pitcher-hitter sensation Shohei Ohtani) on the strength of a league-leading 48 home runs, plus 111 runs batted in and a .311 batting average. Guerrero Jr. nearly powered the Blue Jays to the playoffs, with the team eventually falling a painful one game short. Still, 2021 portended good things to come for the 23-year-old and the rest of his young team. Read more about what makes Guerrero Jr. so special here.

Tom Brady: The greatest NFL quarterback of all time clinched that title when he left the New England Patriots and immediately transformed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into Super Bowl champions at age 43. It was Brady’s seventh title, one more than his long-time head coach Bill Belichick. And he followed it up with a regular season where he leads the league in passing yards and touchdowns. At this point, no one would be surprised if he continues showing up on lists like these for years to come.

WATCH | 5 performances by Canadian women that made us go ‘wow’:

5 performances by Canadian women that made us go ‘wow’

CBC Sports’ Signa Butler breaks down 5 of the best performances by Canadian women in the past year. 3:54


The world juniors ran into its first real COVID-19 hitch. The U.S. was forced to forfeit its game against Switzerland today due to two positive tests. The International Ice Hockey Federation said the team was placed in a mandatory quarantine, but its game against Sweden tomorrow is still on for now. This is the second Switzerland game that’s been affected by COVID-19, after an exhibition against the Czech Republic last week was called off. Canada is still set to face Austria tonight in what is now the lone game on the docket. Read more about the postponement here.

Toronto FC is eyeing a major splash. Following a woeful six-win season, the Reds are reportedly in advanced talks to sign Italian Lorenzo Insigne to a record-setting contract. If the deal gets finalized, Toronto would be landing a player similar to its last Italian superstar Sebastian Giovinco. Insigne, who’s played for Napoli since 2009, is also a small, speedy winger with the ability to transform a team all on his own. But his addition means Toronto needs to shed one of its existing three designated players, which could spell the end of longtime striker Jozy Altidore’s tenure with the club. Read more about the potential move here.

And finally…

Brad Marchand has a message for the NHL. The Bruins pest, not exactly known as someone who tends to hold back, called the league out on Twitter for pulling its players from the Olympics. Marchand was a near-lock to make Team Canada. “Let the players make their choice,” he wrote. The criticism comes on the heels of Connor McDavid calling the NHL’s decision “so disappointing.” Read Marchand’s full tweet here.

You’re up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.


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