The Sports World’s Most Memorable and Human Moments of 2021

One of the beautiful things about sports is the raw emotion. Perhaps more than in any other walk of life, athletes in the heat of the moment, endorphins flowing, let loose.

After the wrestler Tamyra Mensah-Stock won the women’s freestyle 150 pounds competition at the Tokyo Olympics, she formed a heart sign with her hands and showed it to both sides of the arena. Then she cried.

Afterward, Mensah-Stock explained that the gesture was a tribute to her loved ones: her father, who died in a car crash after leaving one of her high school tournaments, which nearly made her quit wrestling; an uncle who died of cancer; a grandfather who also died of cancer; a late friend who also wrestled; her husband; her mother; her aunt; her sister; and her country.

“I’m trying to send love to everyone,” she said.

Mensah-Stock, the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling, spoke with an earnestness and a thoughtfulness that were hard to forget. She name-checked the Black female wrestlers who came before her. She detailed how she was going to use most of her $37,500 bonus to fulfill her mother’s dream of starting a food truck business. She said young women could be strong, silly, tough and fun, and could wrestle.

“Look at this natural hair,” she said. “Come on, man! I made sure I brought my puffballs out so they could know that you can do it, too.”

And Mensah-Stock was gracious to her opponent, Blessing Oborududu of Nigeria.

“Oh my gosh, look at us representing,” she said. “And I’m like, if one of us wins, we’re making history.”

She added later: “It’s fantastic. It meant a lot. I’m so proud of Blessing. I was looking at her, ‘Dang, she’s killing it.’ But I can kill it, too.”

— James Wagner