10 sporting stars to watch in 2021
The post-coronavirus sporting surge is sure to anoint a new star name in 2021, with both the delayed European Championships and Tokyo Olympics taking centre stage.
Here the PA news agency picks out 10 athletes whose profile is likely to sky-rocket in the next 12 months, from those already on the cusp of greatness to others who are preparing to emerge.
Driving force of a triumphant Euro 2020 campaign, or another major talent destined to watch from the sidelines? Only Gareth Southgate knows the answer as he seeks a way to accommodate the mercurial Aston Villa midfielder within his regular England line-up. Whatever his destiny, the progress of Grealish over the next 12 months is guaranteed to be engaging.
The 19-year-old has proved one of the fastest-rising stars of a new generation of women’s footballers. James signed her first professional contract with Manchester United in December last year and finished the season as their leading scorer. Having also broken through into the England ranks, she is set to play a major part in preparations for Euro 2022.
Shrugging off the inevitable pressure that comes with having a British sporting icon for a grandfather, James Botham made his Wales debut against Georgia in the Autumn Nations Cup in November. The 22-year-old impressed enough to keep his place in Wayne Pivac’s plans and raise the prospect of another developing chapter in his family’s remarkable sporting odyssey.
Danish teenager Rasmus Hojgaard has already got golf fans seeing double after a stunning start to his professional career. Hojgaard – whose identical twin brother Nicolai is also a professional – has already won two European Tour events and been hailed as one of the sport’s potential future stars by his compatriot and former Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn.
Sinner is by common consensus the next big thing in men’s tennis after an impressive breakthrough season in 2020. The 19-year-old reached the quarter-finals of the French Open at his first attempt, and rounded off the year by becoming the youngest player in 12 years to win an ATP title, at the Sofia Open. With praise from Roger Federer ringing in his ears, the Italian is in a strong position to keep climbing.
Teenager Wong, who is intent on becoming the first woman to register an 80mph fast-ball, is the rising star of England cricket. Wong earned her first professional contract in 2020 and trained with the England team, although she was left out of the squad for the series against the West Indies to give her more time to develop. Her time is now.
The Burton super-heavyweight will look to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics and emulate the likes of Audley Harrison and Anthony Joshua. Like his predecessors, he comes equipped with bullish self-confidence and a number of questions that still need to be answered. He may not be the strongest medal hope in the GB Boxing team, but he is arguably the most intriguing.
Along with heptathlon star and fellow world champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson, Asher-Smith is at the forefront of a new generation of British athletics success. Already the fastest British female sprinter in history, she will head into the delayed Tokyo Olympics with a realistic chance of also becoming the first to stand on top of the podium with a gold medal around her neck.
After claiming two medals on her Olympic debut in Rio, Tai rubber-stamped her status as one of the world’s leading Paralympic swimmers when she swept the board with seven gold medals at last year’s World Championships in London. Despite battling to remain active during the long coronavirus shutdown, Tai is in line to return with a similarly-sized bucket of medals from Tokyo.
With a name like like his, there is nowhere to hide. The son of the seven-time world champion got his first taste of F1 action when he took part in practice in Abu Dhabi and has signed a multi-year contract with Haas. Schumacher has already shown glimpses of the same high-octane approach and fearless will to win that led to his father being widely hailed at the greatest of all time.