The past year has produced some sterling moments for sport in Hong Kong, and around the world. As athletes returned to the playing field and fans returned to the stands, it seemed, if only for a brief moment, that normalcy had returned. Still, we could not escape the effects of Covid-19, with a delayed Tokyo Olympics, cancelled matches and vaccine controversy continuing to dominate headlines. From the city’s best Olympic performance, 2021 was a year in which some of the world’s greatest athletes showed why age is just a number. A 43-year-old Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl, while teenage tennis stars Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez dominated this year’s US Open. From big numbers to small ones, there was one number which topped them all in 2021 – Lionel Messi’s pay cheque. As we close off another year, we countdown the five biggest stories that made their mark in 2021. 5. Italy – Euro 2020 winners Italy’s run of 37 games without defeat came to an end in July this year with a loss to Lithuania, but not before they swept all before them at the Covid-delayed Euro 2020 tournament. A final against England went to penalties, which Italy won 3-2. Roberto Mancini’s side were unbeaten between October 2018 and October 2021, and hold the world record for most consecutive matches without defeat. 4. Emma Raducanu Emma Raducanu’s fairy tale season has been one of the more positive stories of the year. On September 12, the British teen won the US open , becoming the first qualifier to win a grand slam singles title. Born in Canada to a Romanian father and Chinese mother, Raducanu went from near obscurity to instant, global fame. No easy transition for a 19-year-old. Soon after her US Open victory, Raducanu came down with Covid-19 in Abu Dhabi and missed the Mubadala World Tennis Championship exhibition event. Adding to an already stellar 2021, she was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year and WTA Newcomer of the Year. Raducanu is expected to be front and centre when the Australian Open kicks off on January 17 in Melbourne. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Emma (@emmaraducanu) 3. Tom Brady Tom Brady is a man who defies the odds. The 43-year-old quarterback broke his own mark as the oldest player to win a Super Bowl and joined Hall of Famer Peyton Manning as the only quarterback to win one with multiple franchises. Brady started the year by piloting his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to five straight wins. The culmination came on February 7, when Brady walked away with his seventh Super Bowl ring and was named Super Bowl MVP for the fifth time. 2. Lionel Messi What a year for Lionel Messi. The Argentinian superstar finally led his country to the Copa America title, and seems to have defied the normal laws of ageing, winning the Ballon d’Or for the seventh time in his illustrious career in 2021. But the biggest shock came when he announced that after 21 years with Barcelona, he was moving to Paris Saint-Germain, in a deal reportedly worth around US$76 million a year, a sum that will ensure he remains as one of the world’s highest-paid players. Statistically, 2021 was a stand-out year for Messi, playing a total of 61 games, scoring 43 goals in the process, with an additional 18 assists for his teammates. ❤️ #PSGxMESSI 💙 🛒 https://t.co/Y0Ld6bgt3F pic.twitter.com/ydcuurK2AP — Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_inside) August 10, 2021 1. Hong Kong’s Olympic Team It will come as no great surprise that Hong Kong’s Tokyo Olympic squad was our top story of the year. This year’s delegation was by far the most successful, with medals in fencing , swimming , table tennis , track cycling and karate . While Cheung Ka-long took the city’s first-ever gold medal for fencing, a bigger story was taking place inside the pool as Siobhan Haughey captured hearts and headlines with two silver medal performances. Other memorable performances included Minnie Soo Wai-yam winning the city’s first medal in women’s table tennis , while Sarah Lee, who won Olympic bronze at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, snagged her second bronze medal in the women’s track cycling sprint in Tokyo, making her the only Hong Kong athlete to win medals at two different Olympic Games.