As 2023 comes to an end, Redbrick Sport Writers come together to share their sporting heroes of the year

Simone Biles – Ilina Jha

Simone Biles has achieved many impressive accomplishments throughout her career; however, it is her achievements this year that really show her to be a true sporting legend and a remarkable example of hard work and resilience to us all. 

A true sporting legend and a remarkable example of hard work and resilience to us all

In 2021, Biles withdrew from most events at the Tokyo Olympic Games due to mental health difficulties causing her to experience ‘the twisties’ (loss of air awareness while performing gymnastic stunts). After an extended break, Biles returned to competition this year – and what a return she has made. She won her eighth all-around title at the US National Championships, before going on to the World Championships, where she was the only gymnast to qualify for all of the individual event finals. Biles won her sixth gold medal in the all-around competition –the only gymnast other than Kōhei Uchimura to have achieved this. She also scored gold on the balance beam and achieved her sixth title on floor, becoming the first gymnast in the history of the World Championships to win that many gold medals on one apparatus. Biles also contributed to the US team winning their unprecedented seventh consecutive title. Furthermore, Biles made history by becoming the first woman to land a Yurchenko double pike vault – the most difficult jump in the women’s scoring code, and which has now been renamed the Biles II. Biles has achieved all of this at the age of 26, making her the oldest American woman to compete at the World Championships.

I cannot even fathom the strength it must have taken for Biles to overcome her mental health difficulties and return to competition even stronger than before. Her achievements are a testament to resilience and show that taking a break is not a sign of weakness, but of strength.

Mary Earps – Lucy Blitz

Having been named BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year 2023, goalkeeper Mary Earps has shown her resilience and strength throughout performances for both England and Manchester United this year. While the Lionesses may not have gone all the way at the World Cup, Earps’s heroics throughout the tournament were obvious – no more so than through her latch-ditch save against the strike of Jennifer Hermoso’s penalty kick during the tournament final. Her efforts earned her the Golden Glove award, an accolade representative not just of her success with England over the summer, but of her achievements over the last two years.

Earps’s heroics throughout the tournament were obvious

Having won the EUROs with England in 2022, Earps has since won the inaugural women’s Finalissima and the Arnold Clark Cup. She has stood alongside United during their first ever Champions League qualification, as well as recording 14 clean sheets for the club in 2022-23, a WSL record, as the Reds earned their highest ever league finish.

Off the pitch, Earps is an inspiration for millions. Her successful lobbying of Nike to release a number of goalkeeper shirts during the World Cup meant young children across the world were finally able to get their hands on one of their own – a move demonstrating the importance of all players, not just strikers and midfielders. The collection went on to sell out only hours after their belated release. Having danced with the prospect of international retirement following a two-year-absence from England, Earps is now a household name as well as the backbone of a remarkably successful Lionesses squad.

Iga Swiatek – Erin Perry

2023 was not Iga Swiatek’s greatest year on the WTA tour, which is an insane statement as she still won six titles, including the Roland Garros Grand Slam and the WTA Finals. And yet the standard the Polish 22-year-old has set for herself is so high that such a good year feels slightly underwhelming compared to her 2022 success. However, I’ve chosen her as my Sporting Star of 2023 because she is still the one to beat in women’s tennis and manages to overcome adversity triumphantly. 

This year with her third French Open title, she tied with the GOAT Serena Williams for Roland Garros titles – and she is still only 22. While she has struggled to find the same glory on grass courts that she has on clay or hard courts, this year she achieved her best Wimbledon result yet by reaching the quarter-finals, and I do not think we will be waiting too long for her to lift that Venus Rosewater Dish on Centre Court. Straight after her career-best Wimbledon result, she claimed victory in the Poland Open, lifting the trophy in front of an enthusiastic home crowd. 

This year with her third French Open title, she tied with the GOAT Serena Williams for Roland Garros titles – and she is still only 22

Cracks began to show in September at the US Open where her title defence ended in the fourth round and she temporarily ceded the No.1 ranking to Belarussian Aryna Sabalenka – who went on to finish runner up, losing in the final to teenager Coco Gauff. While Swiatek may have lost the number one ranking, it is important to note that she had held it for 75 weeks, the third-longest streak for a female player in her first stint at the top. 

Despite her up and down year, she triumphed at the WTA 1000 China Open in October before reclaiming her number one position in a straight sets victory in the WTA Finals final against Jessica Pegula. As 2023 ends, Swiatek is back on top and I’m sure more success lies ahead for her in 2024.

Nikola Jokic – Joe Liddicot

There hasn’t been an abundance of basketball coverage in Redbrick Sport of late. With the season only just kicking into gear, expect it more frequently in the coming months. As a precursor to this, my sporting star of 2023 comes from the NBA world. The best player in that world according to many. A man who stands seven feet tall and yet possesses the body coordination of someone half his size, with the gentlest of hands to match. A Center averaging 9 assists per game through 17 matches this season.

A proud Serbian who spent his offseason riding horses around a ranch in his home country, happily ignorant of the intense fanfare that surrounds the NBA year-round. A fierce competitor who led his team to the NBA championship in June. It is, of course, Nikola Jokic. The Denver Nuggets’ 2-time MVP, 1-time NBA Champion, 5-time all-star who was drafted innocuously during a Taco Bell advert. 2023 was a year when it all came together for Jokic, cruising to a 5-game victory over the Heat in the NBA finals, being crowned Finals MVP in the process. Despite losing out to Joel Embiid for regular season MVP, the Serbian can look back on 2023 fondly.

It’s a skillset that seems incongruous for a doughy seven-foot bruiser

A year in which he finally clinched a deserved championship, one that will likely become the first of many. Truly mesmerising at times, he uses an infinite arsenal of offensive talents to torment opponents. Defend him one way, he’ll just beat you in another. It’s a skillset that seems incongruous for a doughy seven-foot bruiser, but my goodness does it make for an entertaining watch. So, my 2023 offering is an homage to Nikola Jokic. And, if he carries on the way he’s going, it might just be the same in 2024.

Stuart Broad – Charlie King

Stuart Broad enjoyed his final Ashes hurrah this summer in an enthralling drawn series, which will live long in the memory. It came as a bit of a surprise when the England all-time great announced his retirement ahead of the final test at Old Trafford, however for a man who lived for the big occasion, his final match was a Stuart Broad classic.

For a man who lived for the big occasion, his final match was a Stuart Broad classic

England’s second all-time leading wicket-taker in tests was synonymous with so many great moments in Ashes history, with his 8-15 rout at Trent Bridge in 2015 seeing him at the peak of his powers. He was often the man England turned to when they needed him most, and when he got going, no England captain could take the ball off of him. And this was the case on the final evening of the Ashes summer, as Broad charged in for the final time, a man possessed. On this occasion, he was armed with his new technique of turning the bails over in hope of a change of fortune, which brought him an immediate wicket not once, but twice.

Australia was prevented from claiming their first Ashes win on English soil since 2001, and the final wicket fell to Stuart Broad. In setting up a target for Australia to defend, Broad also hit a six off his last ball. He would retire with his last ball faced smashed for six, and his last ball bowled claiming a crucial wicket. 

Over the summer, Broad would claim 22 wickets, England’s best effort and one behind player of the series, Australian Mitchell Starc. It was an unforgettable cricketing summer, summed up by the sheer resilience and determination shown by Stuart Broad, for which he is loved by all England cricketing fans. 

Katarina Johnson-Thompson – Lucy Parry

Katarina Johnson-Thompson won her first heptathlon World Title in 2019, breaking Jessica Ennis-Hill’s British record in the process. Since then, she has endured her fair share of heartbreak. After the pandemic postponed the Tokyo Olympics, she suffered a devastating injury – an Achilles tear. She managed to get on the track in Tokyo, only to tear her calf muscle in the 200m. In 2022, she was injury-free but she struggled to regain her fitness. She still won gold at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games though.

Many pundits had written KJT off. She felt she could achieve more, so she changed her coach to Aston Moore

This year, many pundits had written KJT off. She felt she could achieve more, so she changed her coach to Aston Moore. Then she finished 2nd in Götzis, the biggest multi-events competition outside of major championships. This made her a medal contender for the Budapest World Championships. The American Anna Hall was the firm favourite due to her remarkable Götzis performance in which she came so close to crossing the magical 7000-point barrier.

Heptathlon is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one, and there is a lot of added pressure when you are the favourite. On the first day of the heptathlon in Budapest, Hall did not perform to the best of her ability. To be honest, neither did KJT, but ending her day with a win in the 200m gave her the belief that she needed. On day two, she performed brilliantly in the long jump and produced PBs in the javelin and 800m. She became a two-time World Champion. Her turbulent journey back to the top of the world demonstrates her resilience and determination.

Carlos Alcaraz – Halima Ahad

Carlos Alcaraz took the world by storm in the summer of 2023 when he won the iconic British grass tournaments, Queens and Wimbledon. Alcaraz brought his own class and charm to the table and it definitely did not disappoint. Alcaraz has many different forms compared to his tennis predecessors, including Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, and his tennis journey is like no other.

Alcaraz brought his own class and charm to the table and it definitely did not disappoint

When he first came onto the scene, he had a fast and physical gameplay which made him stand out although he was mostly adapted to clay courts. He took his first win at the age of 19 in the 2022 US Open final and since then he has skyrocketed to fame by playing many iconic tournaments that take place across the annual tennis calendar. According to Olympics, it can be argued that Alcaraz has the huge combination style of the Big 3 in the tennis world; the fierceness of Nadal, the consistent style of Djokovic and the power of Federer.

After his momentous win in the US Open, the only way has been up for Alcaraz as he has taken the annual British tournaments by storm this year. After beating long-term winner of Wimbledon, Alcaraz expressed his aspirations towards his rival Djokovic and how he hopes to play like him one day, saying ‘You inspire me a lot. I started playing tennis watching you. Since I was born you were already winning tournaments.’ Alcaraz also came from a humbling background and has always emphasised hard work in the face of adversity, one of the many reasons why he should be seen as a Sporting Star of 2023.

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