18-year-old Alberto Ginés won a gold medal for Sport Climbing. / Reuters

2021: A successful year in Spanish sports

Without seemingly making much noise on the international stage, Spanish athletes from different sports accomplished great things throughout 2021

SHAY CONAGHAN

As 2021 draws to a close, it’s time to look back and reflect on all the sporting events of the year and the many Spanish athletes that had success. It was the year of postponed events, such as the Tokyo Olympics or Euro 2020, with other competitions going ahead as planned. So, how did Spaniards do in their respective sports?

OLYMPICS

Gold

The least amount of gold medals since Athens 2004

In terms of finishing 1st place, it was Spain’s worst gold medal tally since Athens 2004. In Greece they picked up the same amount as in Tokyo: just three.

Fátima Gálvez and Alberto Fernández shot their way- literally- to the country’s first gold of the Games in the mixed trap team shooting event.

Thirty-nine-year-old Sandra Sánchez then extended her five-year podium streak by also finishing first in the kata leg of the karate event. A remarkable achievement for a woman that only began competing for Spain at the age of 34.

The proudest moment for the country was the debut victory of Alberto Ginés, who at the young age of 18 was able to take gold in the Olympic debut of sport climbing, earning himself the nickname ‘Spanish Spider-Man’.

Silver

A total of eights silvers went Spain’s way in Tokyo

While every athlete dreams of winning gold, some are also just as happy to finish second.

Damián Quintero, who grew up in Torremolinos, took his first silver Olympic medal in the same event as his compatriot, Sandra Sánchez, in the individual kata.

Ray Zapata took silver in the men’s floor exercise. The Dominican-born Spaniard was tied with the Israeli gold medallist, but the judges awarded Zapata with silver, despite executing his routine better than his opponent.

Another stunning feat was Adriana Cerezo’s silver in taekwondo. Cerezo was only 17 when she made the final, and the teenager was a mere seven seconds away from clinching what would have been an even more stunning gold medal.

Bronze

Spanish bronze excellence

Spain picked up six bronze medals for the second consecutive Olympics.

Ana Peleteiro, who competes in the triple jump, launched herself 14.87 metres in the final to clinch third place, breaking two Spanish Olympic records in the process by 14 centimetres.

David Valero, who hails from Granada and who finished ninth in Rio 2016, took third in the cross-country cycling event.

Joan Cardona, who was also making his Olympic debut, stepped onto the podium as he took bronze in the Finn category of sailing.

Honorable mentions

Not everyone came back with a medal

After her impressive performances at Rio 2016, where she picked up three bronzes and a gold medal, Mireia Belmonte only managed a fourth-place finish in the 400 metre individual medley; impressive enough for someone recovering from injury.

An injury proved to be too much for Lydia Valentín too as the 36-year-old weightlifter finished tenth in the 87kg category, using just two of her four attempts, managing a total of 225kg.

Long-distance runner Mo Katir was seven seconds away to picking up a medal in the 5,000 metres event, finishing eighth.

FOOTBALL

Malaga CF

A turbulent year on and off the pitch

2021 was certainly a year most Malaga fans won’t forget in a hurry.

Despite finishing December with some poor results, namely their recent defeat to Leganés and their early Copa del Rey exit, the Andalusian club is still in a position to fight for promotion in the second half of the season.

But before this most recent campaign got underway, the team had somehow managed to survive another year in Spain’s second division with what was essentially a squad of youngsters and players who had to renegotiate their contracts. The team never dropped below 13th place until the second and third-last games of the season, ultimately finishing a respectable 12th.

Back to the ongoing campaign, it’s clear Malaga still have areas to improve on the pitch, which hasn’t been an easy task over the last few months. Injuries to key players such as captain Luis Muñoz, Juande, Ramón, Jozabed and Kevin has meant a dip in form.

The team went from being clear candidates to finish in promotion places- backed up by an unbeaten home record until December- to sitting further away from sixth than they would like.

Off the pitch, things only seem to have improved. Sheikh al-Thani was finally revoked of all control over the club, whith the club administrator taking full control.

Moreover, a 40 million cash injection the Blue and Whites will receive from CVC Capital as part of a deal with LaLiga will also relieve fans, with things looking much better for 2022.

There is a slight hiccup at the moment, and that is that the club is currently banned by Fifa from signing players until summer 2023, a situation that its representatives are trying to fix.

Galería.

Spanish National team

A pleasantly surprising year for La Roja

Just over a decade ago, Spanish football fans were spoiled rotten after the national team had gone on an unprecedented run of dominance, winning three international competions in a row between 2008 and 2012.

Since then, the team has had its ups and downs. Hopes going into 2021 weren’t low, but not particularly high either. But manager Luis Enrique delivered on the big stage, against all odds and with very questionable decisions.

Spain made it to the Euro 2020 semi-final although La Roja narrowly missed out on making it to the final after losing to eventual winners Italy on penalties.

Then, a few months later, the national team got their revenge on the Italians by beating them in the Nations League semi-final, before losing out to France in the final after a bizarre refereeing decision. Spain isn’t even close to its heights of a decade ago, but this could be the start of their resurgence.

Spanish U-23s

Spanish silver for the youngsters in Tokyo

The Spanish team finshed second at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, yet another surprise result for many.

The players, mostly U-23s, topped their group before going on to beat Ivory Coast and Japan in the quarter and semi-finals, respectively. The young La Roja side then faced-off against reigning champions Brazil in the final, but could not stop the South Americans from retaining their gold medal.

Ballon d’Or winner

Putellas wins first Ballon d’Or for Spanish women

The captain of Barcelona’s treble-winning team, Alexia Putellas, became the first female Spanish footballer to win the individual award, and the first Spanish footballer to win it since Luis Suárez in 1960.

TENNIS

WTA winner

Muguruza becomes first Spaniard to win WTA finals

Garbiñe Muguruza became the first ever Spaniard to win the WTA Finals, an end of season tournament contested by the sport’s best players. Despite no Gran Slam wins, she still finished the year as world number three.

Tokyo Olympics

Pablo Carreño takes bronze

An impressive performance from Carreño at the Olympics saw him take third place and a bronze medal. The Spaniard knocked out world number 2 Daniil Medvedev in the quarter-finals, but lost in the following round. However, Carreño put on a stellar display of tennis in the bronze medal match, defeating World nº1 Novak Djokovic on route.

Local talent

Davidovich continues his progression

Alejandro Davidovich, from Malaga, continued to rise through the ranks in 2021.

His run in the Monte Carlo Masters was impressive. He achieved his first top ten win, beating Matteo Berrettini; before making his first ATP Masters 1000 quarter-finals, repeating the feat at the French Open for his first Gran Slam quarter-finals. He wasn’t so lucky at the Olympics, where he lost to Novak Djokovic in the third round.

GOLF

US Open

Rahm wins first major title

In June, Jon Rahm became the first ever Spaniard to win the US Open. It was also his first major tournament win, which took him to the top of the rankings and earned him the PGA Player of the Year award.

OTHERS

Karate

Torres and Quintero triumph in Dubai

24-year-old María Torres, from Malaga, picked up a gold medal at the Karate World Championship in Dubai, while fellow local Damián Quintero picked up his third silver medal in a row, building on his second place finish at Tokyo 2020.

Formula 1

Sainz finishes best of the rest

Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr. finished fifth in the World Drivers’ Championship behind the other four drivers at Red Bull and Mercedes. Sainz bagged four podium results and finished ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and his Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc.