2021 Sporting Year in Review: Best NZ Female Athlete - GOAT in a boat

As a pandemic-plagued 2021 draws to a close, Newshub's sporting experts reflect on the highs and lows of another dramatic year that featured (finally) the Tokyo Olympics, another All Blacks campaign and international honours for our Blackcaps cricketers. 

Our top NZ female performers were...

Alex Chapman, Newshub sports reporter

Lisa Carrington

It must be Carrington. The 'GOAT in a boat' was incredible at the Tokyo Games, becoming our most successful - and arguably greatest - Olympian.

Three gold medals on the Sea Forest Waterway - K1 200, K1 500 and K2 500 - sees her now with an incredible five overall, while also securing bronze in the K4 500.

With her dominant class - K1 200 - scrapped for Paris in favour of an extreme canoe slalom event, it will be exciting to see just what the 32-year-old can do in the next few years. 

Even the bravest of bettors would be foolish to write her off having even more success.

Alex Powell, Newshub online sports producer

Laurel Hubbard 

Kiwis often forget that sport is about so much more than just winning and losing. Sport is about the contest and overcoming obstacles to compete.

No female athlete embodied overcoming hurdles in 2021 than Laurel Hubbard.

Laurel Hubbard at the Tokyo Olympics.
Laurel Hubbard at the Tokyo Olympics. Photo credit: Getty

Hubbard's selection as the first transgender weightlifter to compete at the Olympics was met with both praise and backlash - with the negative side sadly taking up most of the headlines.

But once Tokyo arrived, no athlete that handled the pressure of sport's biggest stage with as much grace. Hubbard bowed out of the women's +87kg category, after three failed snatch attempts, quickly removing any notion that her transition to a woman was an unfair advantage against her other competitors.

What's more, Hubbard fronted media not long after her exit and gave a reminder of the importance of hope.

"If there's one thing I'd like to pass on it's this - life is difficult. There are disappointments, I know I have some today, as do we all, but if you just keep pressing on, it does get better."

That's a lesson we could all take on board after a pretty ordinary last two years - it does get better.

Brad Lewis, Newshub online sports producer

Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Amelia Kerr & Sophie Devine 

The true answer is Lisa Carrington, but I dare to be different and, at a time when mental health and the safety of our athletes is so important, I'm paying tribute to three very brave women.

Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Amelia Kerr and Sophie Devine all took time away from their sport to look after themselves, and they deserve credit for that. Two - Ekenasio and Devine - are captains of national sides, and the public don't understand all the responsibilities and pressure that comes with that role.

Often the media is willing to throw a player or two under the bus without realising the consequences - we are all guilty of it - and despite players insisting they don't read the press, they do.

Big ups to these three powerful women for having the fortitude to realise that there are bigger, more important aspects of life to worry about than elite sport. They should be commended, and used as examples for any athlete, male or female, that needs help.

It's certainly OK to ask for it.

Silver Fern star Ameliaranne Ekenasio stepped away from netball to focus on her mental health.
Silver Fern star Ameliaranne Ekenasio stepped away from netball to focus on her mental health. Photo credit: Photosport

James Regan, Newshub sports reporter

Lisa Carrington

Where do you start with the Olympic GOAT? 

Not only did Carrington become New Zealand’s greatest ever Olympic athlete, but she did it with such dominance, you often forgot - with the utmost respect to her competitors - that she was up against the best in the world. 

With a staggering five golds to her name, the Whakatane local has now won a total of six medals. 

Medals aside, her longevity is something to be marvelled at. With gold in three successive Olympics dating back to London 2012, the 32-year-old has also hinted at kicking on through to Paris 2024. 

After winning every Halberg Sportswoman of the Year award since 2016, you can be sure to add another one to that list, which is, in itself, a remarkable achievement.

Simply, a national treasure.

Grant Chapman, Newshub online sports editor

Emma Twigg

Congratulations to kayaker Lisa Carrington on becoming our most successful Olympian, reward for a decade of sustained excellence and achieved over a torrid schedule at Tokyo.

Emma Twigg sporting her Tokyo Olympics gold.
Emma Twigg sporting her Tokyo Olympics gold. Photo credit: Photosport

But for sheer perseverance, it’s hard to go past Twigg, who had contested three previous Olympics and finished fourth twice, despite a successful world championships and World Cup record.

Heartbroken, she retired after Rio 2016, but came back for one last shot, delayed 12 months by a COVID pandemic that kept her out of international competition throughout 2020.

On Sea Forest Waterway, Twigg, 34, was absolutely imperious, giving her rivals no chance of depriving her gold this time.

Stephen Foote, Newshub online sports producer

Lydia Ko

Clearly, the consensus favourite for this award will be Miss Carrington, but I'd like to seize this opportunity to direct the spotlight to the 'Ko-meback Kid' herself.

That terrible pun aside, Ko has shown undeniably impressive mettle this year to shrug off the disappointments of the last couple of years, when a turnstile of coaches and maddening inconsistency saw the former world No.1 drop to as low as No.55 in the LPGA rankings.

For a player with the golfing world at her feet as a 17-year-old, many pundits and fans were quick to consign her to the pile of teen stars who peak too soon, before the pressures of pro golf eventually took their toll.

Lydia Ko has been resurgent in 2021.
Lydia Ko has been resurgent in 2021. Photo credit: Getty

Unwavered, Ko continued to trust her process, applying the very same ethic that brought her to the dance to sharpen her tools, particularly her long game.

The result has been her first LPGA tour title in three years, 11 top-10 finishes, an Olympics bronze medal, a European Tour title and her first-ever Vare Trophy for the best overall scoring average.

A locked-in Lydia is one of the best spectacles in golf. Expect to see more 'Major' improvement in 2022.