2021 Top 10 Moments in Athletics

By: Patrick Larson

What a year! After a 2020 that was riddled with postponed and cancelled competitions, we finally had races to watch again. Throughout the year we saw record breaking performances, new stars breaking through, old veterans holding onto their reign, and people falling from grace. The beauty of a top 10 list is that it will be different for every person that you ask. I’m writing this with an American bias, but I do hope it captured some of the bigger moments on a global scale as well. 

10. Cole Hocker/Matt Centrowitz "Beef"

In a sport that generally lacks gossipy drama, the “beef” between Cole Hocker and Matt Centrowitz was on full display for the world to see. It all started with a simple “Your move, Centro” comment by Carter Christman on one of Hocker’s Instagram posts after he broke the collegiate indoor mile record. The tense exchange between the current U of O runners and the U of O alum created tons of chatter leading into the Olympic Trials where Hocker and Centro would finally face off in the 1500m. In one of the most electric races of the Trials, Hocker may have gotten the last laugh and solidified himself in Trials history with his iconic celebration.

9. Alberto Salazar Banned From the Sport

Finally. After being served punishments for both doping and sexual misconduct, Alberto Salazar was finally banned permanently from the sport. There is no room in the athletics for clowns like Salazar.

8. World Marathon Majors

For the first time ever, the world marathon majors were all contested within just a few months of each other. This forced top athletes to make interesting decisions on which marathons to compete in, allowed newcomers to rise to the top, and gave fans non-stop running to follow throughout the fall. Some highlights include: Marcel Hug domination, Shalane Flanagan running all 6 majors, Emma Bates shining in Chicago, among many others. 

7. Athing Mu: The Present and The Future

After a historic freshman year campaign at Texas A&M that included numerous collegiate records, national championships, and U-20 records, Athing Mu decided to turn pro and sign with Nike just before the Olympic Trials. Within her first 3 months of turning pro, Athing Mu won the Olympic Trials, set the American Record in the 800m, and won Olympic gold in the 800m and 4x400. Athing Mu is the present and the future of women’s track and field.

6. Allyson Felix: Most Decorated Female Olympic Track Athlete

Since the 2016 Olympics, Allyson Felix had a child and subsequently went through a very public break-up with Nike     . She became a role model for women and mothers in sport, showing that it is possible to continue performing at a high level after giving birth and also showing that its also possible to be sponsored by a brand (Athleta) who believes in holistically supporting its athletes. After winning bronze in the 400m and gold in the 4x400, Felix became the most decorated female Olympic track athlete in history and solidified herself as a GOAT in American track and field.

5. Raven Saunders Protest

Leading up to the Olympics, the IOC released a statement essentially squashing any potential protests and establishing consequences if people still decided to engage in some sort of protest. Despite this, American shot-putter Raven Saunders decided to stand up for what she believes in and protested on the medal stand after winning silver. She raised her arms in an X shape and later explained that it represented "the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet."

4. You Get a World Record, You Get a World Record, You Get a World Record

Yes, I know we live in a world of springy spikes and carbon plated supershoes, but I still think it is worth mentioning that over 8 world records were set in 2021 between outdoor track and outdoor road racing. Regardless of new technology, the rewriting of the record book was stunning to say the least.

3. Shelby Houlihan Convicted of Doping

Right before the Olympic Trials, American track and field was dealt news that sent shockwaves through the running community as we witnessed one of our most promising distance athletes face a doping ban and the subsequent public backlash. Removing dopers from our sport is always a positive thing, but it also leaves a black eye on the sport—especially when it is someone who the public previously held in high regard. With Shelby’s doping conviction being upheld, I’m hoping we can leave that storyline in 2021 along with the burrito jokes.

2. Men's High Jump BFFs

Everyone loves a feel-good story and the men’s Olympic high jump result was exactly that. After opting to not do a jump off to determine a clear winner, Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi and Mutaz Barshim of Qatar were given the option to both receive gold medals. The moment that followed was that of pure joy, friendship, and sportsmanship. At its core, the Olympics is about building bridges between countries and cultures—the men’s high jump was the epitome of this Olympic mission.

1. Olympic Men's and Women's 400m Hurdles

The men’s and women’s 400m hurdles were easily the most electric series of events at the Olympics with both events resulting in world records being broken. On the women’s side, Sydney McLaughlin continued to establish herself as one of the most dominant forces in women’s track and field as she ran away from the field and smashed her own world record running 51.47. On the men’s side, Karsten Warholm put on one of the all-time great performances in track and field history by running a time for the 400m hurdles that would make him competitive with most international caliber 400m runners. To top it off, we were treated to a celebration consisted of Warholm ripping his jersey open in superman esque fashion.