Ash Barty and Emma McKeon, the Australian superstars who lit up international sport in 2021, will now go head-to-head for a global sports prize.
Both Barty, the world’s leading tennis player who’s just captured the Australian Open singles crown, and McKeon, the record-breaking Olympic swimming champ, have been nominated for the prestigious Laureus 2022 sportswoman of the year accolade.
Meanwhile, emphasising what a breakthrough year it was for Australian sportswomen, another Olympic swimming champion Ariarne Titmus has been shortlisted for the ‘breakthrough of the year’ award in world sport’s annual ‘Oscars’.
Barty and McKeon could become the first Australian athlete since Cathy Freeman to win the award following Wednesday’s unveiling of the shortlists.
Freeman took the honour in 2001, following her heroics at the previous year’s Sydney Olympics where she won the 400 metres at her home Games. In Freeman’s award-winning year, golfer Karrie Webb was also shortlisted for the gong.
Barty is being recognised for her stellar 2021 campaign in which she comfortably retained her place as world No.1 while also taking the Wimbledon crown among five victories around the world.
The 27-year-old freestyle maestro McKeon took four gold and three bronze at the Tokyo Olympics, tying with gymnast Maria Gorokhovskaya for most medals won by a woman in a single Games.
The Australian pair, though, face tough competition for the award from Jamaican Elaine Thompson-Herah, the triple sprint champion in Tokyo, American track legend Allyson Felix, US swimming superstar Katie Ledecky and Spain’s Ballon d’Or-winning footballer Alexia Putellas.
The newly-retired Tom Brady will doubtless be a sentimental favourite to win the equivalent men’s award, as his name was announced on the shortlist 24 hours after announcing his retirement from the NFL.
The seven-time Super Bowl winner is nominated along with Novak Djokovic, who won three tennis grand slams last year, Formula One champ Max Verstappen, Kenyan marathon king Eliud Kipchoge, US quintuple Tokyo gold medalist gswim powerhouse Caeleb Dressel and Ballon d’Or-winning striker Robert Lewandowski.
The young Tasmanian freestyler Titmus made a remarkable impact, beating the great Ledecky twice, at both 200 and 400 metres in Tokyo, while also earning a silver in the 800-metre final behind the American.
She’ll face competitition for the ‘breakthrough’ award from tennis stars Daniil Medvedev and Emma Raducanu, both surprise champions at the US Open, India’s Olympic javelin champ Neeraj Chopra, Spanish footballer Pedri and world record-breaking triple jumper Yulimar Rojas.
The team of the year award will be contested by three football teams in the Argentina and Italy men’s national sides and Barcelona Women, as well as NBA champions, the Milwaukee Bucks.
Retiring Aussie wheelchair tennis legend Dylan Alcott was surprisingly not listed for the award for sportsperson of the year with a disability, even though his female Dutch counterpart Diede de Groot, who achieved the same ‘golden slam’ of all four grand slams and Paralympic gold, did get nominated.
The nominees were selected by a panel of 1300 sports journalists globally. Winners will be announced in April following a vote by the 71 Members of the Laureus World Sports Academy.