Australia’s female athletes had a barnstorming 2021 and it’s no surprise tennis superstar Ash Barty features prominently on our top-20 list.
They are the women that wowed.
Australia’s female athletes had a blockbuster 2021 with our Tokyo Olympians the crown jewels of our sporting achievements.
It’s been such a big year in Australian sport that it’s inevitable when dissecting the year formaldehyde fumes may result in some achievements being disposed of too quickly.
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But no one could discount the international performances of our swimmers and the world’s best female tennis player.
Headed by swimming superstar Emma McKeon becoming our greatest Olympian through to the skill, passion and resilience of Ash Barty’s Wimbledon win … it’s been a tremendous year.
For women, sport has become a world language, breaking down barriers and globally becoming a powerful tool for progress and development.
In a year of lockdowns, masks and QR codes — our female athletes delivered astounding feats of strength and inspiration.
“It’s an honour to be selected,” McKeon said.
“But Kaylee in the 100m backstroke — or her whole Olympics was, for me, the best sporting performance of 2021. She has had a rough couple of years and what she achieved this year showed her strengths as a person.
“It’s such an exciting time for women’s sport — hopefully we inspired a lot of young girls coming through. Participation drops off in the teenage years and hopefully this will inspire all female athletes to keep pushing through.
“I believe this is only the beginning.”
Today, News Corp celebrates 20 of our influential and talented Australian women – bring on the debate about who should and shouldn’t have made the list and most of all bring on 2022, starting with the Women’s Ashes next month.
EMMA MCKEON (Swimming)Touted as the most gender-balanced Games in history, women produced some of the most memorable performances of the Olympics and McKeon was a standout.
The 27-year-old became Australia’s most successful Olympian with seven medals at a single Games.
After her first swim of the meet was overshadowed by a touchpad dead-heat controversy, McKeon won four gold medals and three bronze.
The no-nonsense athlete equalled the most medals won by a woman at an Olympics, after Soviet Union gymnast Maria Gorokhovskaya had a wild time at the 1952 Games.
McKeon is officially one of our greatest, joining the likes of Ian Thorpe and Dawn Fraser.
She was also part of one of the greatest viewing moments of the Games, as part of Australia’s all-conquering sprint queens in the 4x100m freestyle relay.
The team then shattered their own world record, to set the nation up for a huge week in the pool, clocking an incredible 3:29.69 seconds — the first team ever to go under 3:30.
ASH BARTY (Tennis)Where does one start?
Her Wimbledon title, her hold on the No. 1 ranking, her accolade of winning the WTA’s Player of the Year Award for the second time … her humility.
For the third season in the row, Barty finished with the No. 1 ranking — and she is still only 25. This is despite pulling the pin on the season-ending WTA finals in Mexico in November, preferring to stay at home and “cook”. You gotta love that.
Oh, and she also won a bronze medal with her good mate John Peers in the mixed doubles in Tokyo.
The best female player in the world now has the Australian Open in her sights and in her spare time serves as a National Indigenous Tennis Ambassador.
But it was her goosebump win at Wimbledon on the 50th anniversary of mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley on a date that coincided with NAIDOC week that made 2021 special.
MADISON DE ROZARIO (Athletics)A gold medal-winning para-athlete and world record-holder, De Rozario is quickly earning a place in history as a legend of wheelchair racing.
She backed up her gold and world record in the T53 800m six days later by winning the T54 marathon.
The 28-year-old stormed home to finish in a new Paralympic record time of one hour, 38 minutes and 11 seconds — pipping Swiss silver medallist Manuela Schaer by just one second.
Coached by great Louise Sauvage, De Rozario came home, quarantined … then jumped on another plane to become the first Aussie winner of the New York marathon.
American giant Mattel immortalised de Rozario last year as a Barbie doll for the “Shero” collection of inspiring dolls created in the likeness of powerful female role models.
They were on the money.
SAM KERR (Football)The stage just keeps getting bigger and Sam Kerr just keeps getting better.
Kerr finished third in the prestigious 2021 Ballon d’Or — think of this as the Academy Awards for footballers.
To date she is the only Australian woman to be nominated for the award. Moreover, she is one of four players alongside France’s Wendi Renard, the Netherlands’ Lieke Martens and Denmark’s Pernille Harder to be nominated every year since the women’s award was created.
Kerr also lead the Matildas to their best result in a major competition, finishing fourth at the Olympics.
Club-wise Kerr won three trophies, the FA League Cup, FA Community Shield and FA Women’s Super League. Chelsea was able to accomplish this treble in large part due to the 27 club goals Kerr scored across all competitions.
She was rewarded for her goal scoring prowess over the past year by also winning the Golden Boot as the top scorer in England’s Women’s Super League.
BETH MOONEY (Cricket)The Aussie cricketer would prefer to fly under the radar but it’s a bit hard to do when you are named the leading woman cricketer in the world in the 2021 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.
She never wanted such accolades but T20s best batter in the world had already stamped herself with a stellar T20 World Cup campaign.
Covid knocked around the international cricketing schedule but when it resumed, against India in September, Mooney played one of the greatest ODI knocks.
Her player-of-the match 125 not out sealed a series victory over India and gifted the Aussie women a record 26th successive win in the 50-over format.
Mooney also won the Belinda Clark Medal and her third WBBL title.
JESS FOX (Canoe/kayak)Fox has been the world’s best paddler on whitewater for years but an Olympic gold medal had proven her unicorn.
A silver in London, a bronze in Rio … there was much expectation and pressure in Tokyo and finally, with her father Richard in commentary, Fox powered to Olympic glory in the C1.
She not only won the C1 event – she smashed it, winning by more than three minutes.
She also collected a bronze in the K1 — the only athlete to finish on the podium in canoeing and kayaking in Tokyo.
The 27-year-old then competed at the ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships in Bratislava in September and took the top honours in the extreme slalom – which will be an Olympic event in Paris. Just saying.
ARIARNE TITMUS (Swimming)It was the one event Ian Thorpe said he was most looking forward to — the Olympic debutant Ariarne Titmus up against American great Katie Ledecky.
And the wait for the delayed Tokyo Games was worth it.
The 21-year-old Tasmanian twice dethroned the near-unbeatable Katie Ledecky to claim two Olympic golds in the women’s 200m and 400m freestyle events.
Titmus then parlayed her extraordinary achievements with a silver and bronze in the 800m freestyle and 4x200m relay respectively.
She has now joined swimming legend Shane Gould and Ian Thorpe as the only Australians ever to win the Olympic 200-400m freestyle double.
TIA-CLAIR TOOMEY (CrossFit)An absolute giant in the sport of CrossFit and often referred to as the world’s fittest woman, Toomey won her fifth World CrossFit title — a record — earlier this year.
Toomey now lives in Texas with her coach/husband Shane and her appeal is so great that the athlete is listed as Australia’s top female athlete on Instagram’s Rich List, and sixth overall.
Toomey took up CrossFit after winning gold in weightlifting at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the 58kg division — and now she is vying for a spot at the Winter Olympics in Australia’s bobsleigh team.
KAYLEE McKEOWN (Swimming)Three gold medals in Tokyo cements McKeown’s name on this list — and her 100m backstroke win was nominated by Dolphins teammate Emma McKeon as her highlight of the year.
From Australia’s most decorated Olympian this is high praise indeed.
McKeown, 20, is Australia’s first female Olympic backstroke gold medallist — and she doubled down to win the 200m backstroke and was part of the 4x100m medley events.
Immediately after claiming her first individual gold, McKeown dedicated the win to her late father Sholto who passed away last August after a long battle with brain cancer.
JAMIE KAH (Jockey)There’s no shortage of female Australian racing royalty but Jamie Kah will always be the first jockey to achieve 100 metropolitan wins in a single season.
Covid controversy aside, Kah will always have a place in Flemington history after winning Victorian racing’s most prestigious individual prize, the Scobie Breasley Medal.
She clinched the jockeys’ premiership with a record 105 wins.
Her biggest win of the season came outside the racecourse after winning a Supreme Court appeal against a two-month ban she was handed by racing officials who said she gave misleading information about a gathering that broke lockdown rules.
Kah had accepted an initial three-month ban for her role in hosting an illegal gathering at an Airbnb rental on the Mornington Peninsula in late August.
However, the 25-year-old appealed against a further two-month sanction for giving false and/or misleading evidence to Racing Victoria stewards over who attended the illegal gathering.
The Supreme Court judgment found Kah was denied procedural fairness by Racing Victoria.
MINJEE LEE (Golf)Long considered the best female golfer never to have won one of the five majors, Lee finally earned the major championship that her talents have promised for so long.
Lee made a birdie on the first playoff hole of the Evian Championship in France to join Hannah Green, Karrie Webb and Jan Stephenson as Aussie women who have won a golf major.
The Western Australian, who hadn’t won on the circuit for two years, had started seven shots back before a flawless final round seven under 64.
ELLIE COLE (Swimming)The 29-year-old won a silver and bronze medal in Tokyo making taking her medal tally to 17 — the most of any Australian female Paralympian.
Cole swam the lead-off backstroke leg of Australia’s 4x100m medley to win bronze and also won silver in the 4x100m freestyle relay.
Her biggest win came outside the pool. A staunch advocate for disability rights, she campaigned for Paralympians to be paid the same as their Olympic counterparts.
Her efforts were rewarded in September when Scott Morrison announced there would be payment parity for medal wins.
At the time, she said: “I always just assumed that no-one really cared about the Paras too much, and that’s why we weren’t getting equal pay. But it wasn’t that they didn’t care, they just didn’t know.”
NICOLA McDERMOTT (High jump)Bullied as a kid in high school because of her height — she was called a giraffe — the devoted Christian called on all her higher powers to win an Olympic silver in the high jump.
It came in the same year she became the first Australian woman in history to clear the magical two metre mark.
She then beat her Tokyo nemesis at Paris Diamond League in August to become just the third Aussie woman to win a Diamond League meet.
CHARLOTTE CASLICK (Rugby Sevens)Widely regarded as the best female Rugby Sevens player in the world, Caslick bounced back from Australia’s disappointing Olympic campaign to dominate this month’s Dubai Sevens.
Caslick helped Australia’s Next Gen Rugby Sevens side to back-to-back titles for the first time in four years.
The Rio Olympic gold medallist was outstanding for the women’s side and rightly was named impact player of the tournament.
Caslick — with pace, durability and smarts — had it all on show at Dubai World Series, after working her way back to full fitness.
SAM STOSUR (Tennis)Speaking of durability, Stosur won her second US Open Women’s doubles title — her first title in 16 years at the ripe old age of 37.
It also came on the 10-year anniversary of her memorable 2011 singles triumph at the US Open against Serena Williams.
Stosur and China’s Zhang Shuai defeated American teens Coco Gauff and Caty McNally 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
The youngsters were left in tears of disappointment but Gauff did say: “Not a lot of people know this but, Sam, you’re actually my first autograph of a professional tennis player!”
LAURA PEEL (Aerial skier)Peel recorded five World Cup podiums, including two victories over the year, as well as a silver in Finland in December.
With a full-tuck-full, double twisting back somersault, Peel finished second behind fellow Aussie Danielle Scott and will be one of Australia’s best medal hopes at the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.
ELLYSE PERRY (Cricket)Just when you thought she had done it all, Perry became the first Australian cricketer to register the double of 5000 runs and 300 wickets in international cricket.
Her unbeaten 68 during the Day/Night Test against India in October saw her join the exclusive club that includes the likes of Shaun Pollock, Kapil Dev, Ian Botham, Wasim Akram and Imran Khan.
Perry now has 692 runs from 14 innings at a staggering Test average of 86.50 and the cricket superstar is set for a big Ashes series next year.
SOPHIE DWYER (Netball)A breakout Suncorp Super Netball season saw the Giants goal attack elevated from a Diamonds tour invitee to a senior member of the Diamonds squad ahead of their Quad series in January.
It has been a supersonic rise for the 20-year-old who originally claimed the Giants starting position courtesy of an ACL injury to regular GA Kiera Austin.
Dwyer, who offers long range accuracy, finished the season second overall for super shots (52) and in the Top 10 for total goals scored (371) and won Super Netball’s Rising Star Award.
KELSEY-LEE BARBER (Javelin)A season best of 64.56 metres saw Barber, the reigning world champion, win the bronze medal in Tokyo with her sixth and final throw.
Making her achievement all the more special, Barber has struggled with a case of the ‘yips’ all season.
Throwing the javelin any sort of competitive distance appeared just about impossible this year.
She was one throw from the ignominy of being the reigning world champion who exited in the first round.
But one of the ultimate clutch performers in Australian sport, wasn’t about to walk out without giving it a shot and won a bronze medal on perseverance alone.
RHIANNAN IFFLAND (Cliff diving)For an athlete that once admitted to this journalist she didn’t really like heights, Iffland recorded her fifth Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series title in September.
The Newcastle native, 30, won the series in style in Polignano, on Italy’s southeast coast – the home of European cliff diving.
She trained as a gymnast when she was at school and later trained at the NSW Institute of Sport with future Olympic medallists Matthew Mitcham and Melissa Wu.
Iffland has completed a number of stunning diving feats, including earlier this year when she became the first person in the world to dive out of a moving hot air balloon.
But what gets her on this list is her dominance, her fifth World Series Title was a longtime coming as her sport has just resumed after a 21-month gap.
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