The 25 athletes who defined 2022

It’s quite daunting to nail down the 25 best individual athletes from the 2022 calendar year. Spanning professional and amateur sports, so the lot to choose from is pretty vast. But we gave it a shot, anyway. Here are our notable sports stars for 2022. Listed in alphabetical order.


Jocelyn Alo

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Not many athletes — amateur or professional — enjoyed a more successful 2022 than this Oklahoma softball standout. In March, Alo became the all-time NCAA softball home run leader when she belted the 96th of her career — which rose to 122 when her time with the Sooners ended. For the 2022 regular season, Alo batted .476 with 24 home runs and 61 RBIs. While repeating as USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year and earning first-team All-American honors for the third time, Alo was then named Women’s College World Series Most Outstanding Player while leading the Sooners to a second consecutive national title.


Aliyah Boston

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Simply put, Boston is the best women’s college basketball player in the country. And while the South Carolina superstar received a bevy of honors during the 2022 calendar year (SEC Female Athlete of the Year, National Player of the Year, Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, SEC Player of the Year — just to name a few), her biggest accomplishment to date was helping the Gamecocks win the 2022 national championship. The Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Boston scored 19 or more points in half of South Carolina’s NCAA Tournament games last season. Meanwhile, she averaged 12.9 points and 9.2 rebounds through the first nine games of the 2022-23 campaign for the No. 1 Gamecocks.


Nathan Chen

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Chen entered the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing with three men’s singles ice skating World Championships. However, the intention was to win gold for the United States in Olympic competition after placing fifth during the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang. And the touted American did not disappoint. His score of 113.97 in the short program this year was an international record en route to winning gold and becoming the first Asian American to claim an Olympic medal of any kind. Chen was also part of the American silver-medal squad in the team event in Beijing.


Stephen Curry

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Healthy and focused, Curry proved why he still might be the best clutch player in the NBA, even well into his 30s. After two straight seasons of failing to miss the playoffs, Curry and the Golden State Warriors made their 2022 trip to the postseason count. Curry shot 46 percent during last season’s playoffs. Notably, he averaged 31.2 points on 48.2-percent shooting and made 43.7 percent of his three-pointers to earn Finals MVP while the Warriors overcame a 2-1 hole to Boston and won their fourth NBA title in eight seasons. Through his first 26 games of the 2022-23 campaign, Curry averaged 30.0 points and made half of his 524 field-goal attempts.


Eileen Gu

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Born in San Francisco but representing China based on her heritage, Gu certainly lived up to her pre-Olympic hype at the aforementioned 2022 Games in Beijing. Now, her decision to compete in the freestyle skiing events for the host country naturally drew criticism from her American fans and critics. However, any negativity thrown her way didn’t seem to distract her. She won gold in the big air and halfpipe events and earned silver in the slopestyle competition. At 18 years old, Gu is the youngest freestyle skier to take home Olympic gold.


Bryce Harper

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OK, Harper failed to hit 20 home runs for the second time in three seasons, but the Philadelphia Phillies‘ superstar did miss two months of the ’22 season with a broken thumb. He only hit three homers and batted .227 in the 35 regular-season games played following his late August return from that injury. Yet, Harper certainly made his money during the Phillies’ impressive run to the World Series. In 17 postseason contests, Harper batted .349, with 13 RBIs and six homers, highlighted by that memorable go-ahead, eighth-inning two-run blast in the Game 5 NLCS-clincher against the Padres, and 13 RBIs. To no surprise, Harper was the championship series MVP.


Jalen Hurts

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In college at Alabama then Oklahoma, Hurts’ NFL future was uncertain. Despite his versatility, scouts and critics wondered if he had what it took to succeed at this level. Well, as 2022 ends, the 2020 second-round pick is the frontrunner for NFL MVP with the 13-1 Philadelphia Eagles. After 15 weeks of play, Hurts, who is dealing with a shoulder issue, ranks among the NFL leaders in passing yards (3,472), passing touchdowns (22), completion percentage (67.3) and rushing yards by a quarterback (747). And making it all look pretty easy.


Erin Jackson

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Winning Olympic gold and making history was on the agenda for Jackson at the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing. Just months before her 30th birthday, and after she nearly failed to qualify for the Games, Jackson became the first black American woman to win an Olympic speed skating medal. And, it just happened to be gold, topping the field in the woman’s 500-meter competition — with a time of 37.04 seconds. Jackson is the first U.S. woman to win the 500 since the legendary Bonnie Blair in 1994.


Nikola Jokic

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One NBA MVP award in 2020-21 wasn’t enough for the Denver Nuggets star. Jokic just had to have another, and he got it in 2021-22. Of course, the repeat was warranted. Jokic averaged a career-high 27.1 points and 13.8 rebounds last season. Though the Nuggets didn’t make it out of the first round of the ’22 NBA Playoffs, Jokic averaged 31.0 points in five postseason contests. Through 24 games in the 2022-23 campaign, Jokic was shooting a career-best 63.4 percent. That included 31 points, 14 assists, and 12 rebounds against Utah on Dec. 10.


Aaron Judge

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Talk about a year — on the field and in terms of Aaron Judge’s bank account. Of all the stellar athletic performances that helped make up this list, Judge might sit No. 1. His 62 homers in 2022 broke the American League single-season record held by fellow New York Yankees great Roger Maris. That monumental performance, plus the fact he set career bests for batting average (.311) and RBIs (131), helped Judge win his first AL MVP award. Then in early December, he signed a massive nine-year, $360 million contract to remain in the Bronx.


Lydia Ko


In 2021, Ko won just one LPGA Tour tournament, and that came in April. Fast forward to 2022, and the 2018 LPGA Player of the Year already had a victory by January (Gainbridge LPGA) and followed with wins at the BMW Ladies Championship and the CME Group Tour Championship. Just 25 years old, Ko also placed in the top 10 in three of the Tour’s five major events and topped the LPGA Tour Money List with more than $4.3 million in winnings en route to her second LPGA Player of the Year title.


Cooper Kupp

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The 2021 campaign with the Los Angeles Rams was obviously a special one for the former third-rounder from Eastern Washington, posting 145 receptions, 1,947 yards with 16 touchdowns to win Offensive Player of the Year by The Associated Press. However, Kupp was truly at his best during the playoffs, all in 2022, when he caught 33 passes for 478 yards with six touchdowns in four such games. During the Rams’ Super Bowl victory over Cincinnati, Kupp had eight receptions for 92 yards and two touchdowns , highlighted by that go-ahead 1-yarder from Matthew Stafford with 1:25 remaining in the fourth quarter. That solidified his game MVP honor. While injuries have hampered Kupp’s 2022 season, he still recorded 75 receptions for 812 yards with six TDs in nine games.


Connor McDavid

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From Jan. 1, 2022, to Dec. 17, including the playoffs, McDavid has totaled 63 goals and 103  assists in 97 games. The Edmonton Oilers superstar is the best overall player in the NHL and won his fourth Art Ross Trophy after leading the league with a career-best 123 points in 2021-22. In addition, McDavid’s 44 goals and 79 assists from last season were also a career-high. During the ’22 postseason, McDavid topped all skaters with 33 points (10 goals, 23 assists) — in 16 games. Through 32   games this season, McDavid’s 62 points were eight more than his closest competitor — Oilers teammate Leon Draisaitl.


Lionel Messi

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Rafael Nadal

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No male has won more tennis grand slam singles titles than the great Nadal’s 22 — as of the close of 2022. Two of those victories came during this calendar year, which he opened with his second Australian Open championship (the first came in 2009). Then, Nadal added to his stellar French Open resume by winning that event for a record 14th time. The 36-year-old Nadal also reached the semifinals of Wimbledon and was tabbed ITF World Champion in 2022


Alex Ovechkin

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There are only three players in NHL history to record at least 800 goals. Ovechkin just became one of them. On Dec. 13, the 37-year-old Ovechkin sat on 797 goals prior to the puck drop between his Washington Capitals and the host Chicago Blackhawks. By the time the game ended, Ovechkin hit the coveted 800 mark, then passed   Gordie Howe for second on the all-time list — but still a ways away from catching Wayne Gretzky (894). From Jan. 1 to Dec. 17, Ovechkin, who recorded his ninth season with at least 50 goals in 2021-22, scored 47 regular-season and playoff goals over 83 games.


Jeremy Pena

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Taking over at shortstop for a star like Carlos Correa could be daunting, and Pena’s rookie regular season was up and down for the Houston Astros in 2022 (22 home runs, .253 average, 135 strikeouts). However, when it mattered most, Pena came through in grand fashion to help the Astros win their second World Series in six seasons. During the ’22 postseason, the rookie shortstop batted .345 with eight RBIs and four homers, including the division-series clincher in the top of the 18th inning against Seattle. Pena recorded seven hits in the final three games of the World Series against the Phillies to earn MVP honors.


Rich Strike

Michael Clevenger and O’Neil Arnold/Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK

Of course, racing thoroughbreds are athletes, too. And, when it came to shocking the world, Rich Strike’s name will forever be mentioned among the greatest longshots of all time. Checking in at 80-1, Rich Strike stunned race fans around the globe by winning this year’s Kentucky Derby — the second-biggest odds placed on any winner. Adding even more to this Hollywood-style script, the three-year-old only earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby field the day before when Ethereal Road was scratched.


19 of 25

Scottie Scheffler

Scottie Scheffler

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Following three top-10 major tournament finishes and helping the U.S. win the Ryder Cup in 2021, there was plenty of hype surrounding Scheffler in 2022. And it’s safe to say he took care of business. Scheffler proved his worth by winning at Phoenix, the Arnold Palmer, and the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play — all by the end of March. Then, Scheffler etched his name in greatness by winning the Masters, by 3 strokes over Rory McIlroy, for his first major title. Scheffler went on to tie for second at the U.S. Open, sit atop the PGA Tour Money List for 2021-22 — with more than $14 million in earnings — and claim PGA Tour Player of the Year honors.


Iga Świątek

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Just 21 years old, Świątek enjoyed quite the 2022 season. After reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open, the budding Polish star won her second French Open title. Then in April, Świątek took over the No. 1 spot in the WTA rankings. She closed out the major season by winning the U.S. Open women’s singles championship. In all, Świątek, who strung together a 37-match winning streak, won eight tournaments in 2022 and was the WTA Player of the Year.


Oscar Tshiebwe

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In addition to being one of the nicest guys currently playing college basketball, Tshiebwe is a stud on the basketball court. Sure, Kentucky was shockingly bounced in the 2022 NCAA Tournament by No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s, but the 6-foot-9 Tshiebwe was not the reason for that defeat. He scored 30 in that contest, and in the final 20 games of the 2021-22 season, Tshiebwe averaged 18.9 points and 15.2 rebounds. The All-American was tabbed consensus national player of the year for setting career highs of 17.4 average points on 60.2-percent shooting, 15.1 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 assists.


Justin Verlander

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Coming off Tommy John surgery at age 39, Verlander more than exceeded expectations by winning his third Cy Young Award and helping the Houston Astros to a second World Series title. The right-hander, who won the award as a 24-game winner in 2011 with Detroit and a 21-game winner for the Astros in 2019, went 18-4 with a major-league leading 1.75 ERA in 28 starts this season — and finally posted a winning World Series start in his 10th try. All after pitching just one game in 2000 and ’01. Verlander then capped his stellar ’22 by signing a two-year, $86.7 million deal with the New York Mets.


Caleb Williams

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There might not have been a clear-cut Heisman Trophy favorite until late in the season, but when the dust settled, Williams proved the obvious choice. His decision to transfer to USC from Oklahoma to play for his former Sooners coach Lincoln Riley was paved with plenty of hype. And Williams lived up to all of it, even if the Trojans blew their chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff. Williams ranked among the top 10 nationally in passing yards (4,075), touchdowns (37) and passer rating (167.9). He also ran for 372 yards and 10 touchdowns.


Serena Williams

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According to ESPN, what turned out to be Williams’ final tennis match before her announced retirement against Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic in the third round of the U.S. Open in early September drew a peak viewership of nearly seven million. Sure, it would have been a true Hollywood ending had Williams managed to make a significantly deep run at the event. However, the fact the unseeded Williams made it that far, after upsetting No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit proved to be one of the great sports moments of 2022.


Aj'a Wilson

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It can be argued that Wilson has been the WNBA’s best overall player for sometime now with the Las Vegas Aces. In 2022, she won her second league MVP award in three seasons for averaging 19.5 points on 50.1-percent shooting and career highs of 9.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals. She was also tabbed WNBA Defensive Player of the Year. However, like Aliyah Boston to kick off this list, Wilson, most importantly, became a champion in 2022, guiding the Aces to their first WNBA title.

Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.


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