Top of Their Game: Award-Winning Photos From the World of Sport

The top picks from the World Sports Photography Awards freeze those moments of victory, defeat and everything in between.

The world of sports is one that’s packed with emotions: the joy of victory, the disappointment of failure, the calm before the storm, and the passionate moments in between – for the players as well as the spectators. Capturing these moments of vulnerability as well as invincibility that lie at the heart of athleticism are the photographers who amplify emotion and tell a story in every frame.


Photographer David Gray managed to do precisely that in his photograph of Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka, who appears to pause mid-serve, tennis racket in hand. Osaka’s shadow is seen bending, her free hand outstretched presumably towards a butterfly that appears to fleetingly rest on the tips of her fingers. The shot captures a tender moment during the fierce match that won Osaka her fourth Grand Slam title at the 2021 Australia Open. The award-winning image is featured in the third edition of the World Sports Photography Awards 2022, the only international competition of its kind.

It is one of 24 select images across various categories including American football, basketball, cycling, gymnastics, boxing, and aquatic. The winners were selected from over 7,000 entries received, including those from some of the world’s most accomplished photographers, and judged by leading figures from the sports, media, brand, and creative industries.

Simon Burton, co-founder of the World Sports Photography Awards, said of Gray’s award-winning photo in a media release, “This is a breath-taking image. Sports Photography captures special moments and tells unique stories, but most of all it draws you in and reveals the unexpected. It forces you to look again and reconsider.”

The broad category of Sports Photography allows a peek inside the many worlds outside mainstream sports. One such world is that of urban and extreme sports, also known as action sports or alternative sports, categorised by high speed and high risk. Common sports played in this category are skateboarding, snowboarding, freestyle skiing, mountain biking, and cliff diving, among others. The winning image in this category was Morgan Treacy’s that captures Romanian cliff diver Catalin Preda mid-air as he dives off a 27.5 metre platform at the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, Downpatrick Head, Ireland, in September 2021.

Catalin Preda dives off a 27.5 metre platform at the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, Downpatrick Head, Ireland, in September 2021. Photo: Morgan Treacy

Swedish photographer Joel Marklund’s image of biathlete Linn Persson as she shoots during the Biathlon World Championships 2021, organised by the International Biathlon Union (IBU), in Pokljuka, Slovenia, won in the winter sports category. The Biathlon is a competitive sport that combines skiing and rifle shooting. Contestants typically race through a cross-country trail, stopping to shoot targets with a special lightweight rifle, at designated stops.

Biathlete Linn Persson taking a shot at the IBU Biathlon World Championships 2021. Photo: Joel Marklund

Another award-winning photograph shows the bandaged and bruised legs of Chinese gymnast Guan Chenchen, who won the gold medal on the beam at the Women's Gymnastics Apparatus Final 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, taken by American photographer Ashley Landis, who won in the gymnastics category for the image. 

Chinese gymnast Guan Chen Chen caught in action. Photo: Ashley Landis

From Pakistan, photographer Muhammad Arbaz’s image of cricketer Khushdil Shah taken just after Shah leans into a shot with his bat won in the cricket category. The photo, taken in the National Stadium in Karachi,  depicts a wave of golden light falling on Shah, against the backdrop of the shadowy figure of an umpire. 

Khushdil Shah captured mid-shot in National Stadium, Karachi, Pakistan. Photo: Muhammad Arbaz

From American swimmer Caeleb Dressel’s winning lap at the Tokyo Olympics 2021 to Australian boxer Ebanie Bridges’ eye injury after her WBA Bantamweight defeat, check out the other winning entries below.

Alexa Szvitacs (Hungary) serving during Women's Doubles Table Tennnis, Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Photo: Donald Miralle

Dorian Finney-Smith (Dallas Mavericks #10) grabs ball from Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks #22) American Airlines Centre, Dallas, Texas NBA (National Basketball Association). Photo: Kevin Jairaj

Lukas Rohan, Rowing Men's C-1 Slalom, 2020 Olympic Games Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Morgan Treacy

L.J.Chen Gold Winner in Men's 67kg Weightlifting Olympics 2020, Tokyo Japan. Photo: Isaac Julián Morillas Sánchez

Cruz Azul (Club de Futbol Cruz Azul) win the Liga MX (Mexican Football Leage Championship) after almost 25 years of trying and failing at the last stages. Photo: Eloisa Sanchez de Alba

Caeleb Dressel (USA) winning Men's 100m butterfly final July 31 2021, Olympics Tokyo. Photo: Ian MacNicol

Goring, ridden by Charles Bishop during the Play 4 to win at Betway Handicap at Wolverhampton Racecourse. Photo: Mike Egerton

Ebanie Bridges (Australia) with bad eye injury after her world WBA Bantamweight defeat over 10 rounds against rival Shannon Courtenay (England), Boxing. Photo: Richard Pelham

Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Red Bull Racking, reacts after crashing during the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan at Baku City, June 2021. Photo: Clive Rose

Max Holloway beats Calvin Kattar, at Fight Island in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi - UFC. Photo: John Barry

The peloton rides through Siena (Italy) during stage 12 of 2021 Giro d'Italia. Photo: Ashley and Gered Gruber

Springboks (South Africa) Lineout v British and Irish Lions. Photo: Steve Haag

Ambra Sabatini (Italy) celbrating smashing the 100m T63 Paralympic world record, winning gold with compatriots Martina Caironi (silver) and Monica Contrafatto (bronze) Tokyo 2020, Paralympic Games, Athletics. Photo: Samuel Barnes

Wilson Catoe (#42), Cade Barnard (#40), Jakobi Buchanon (#33) Army Black Knights in locker room before game against Navy Midshipmen at MetLife Stadium December 11, 2021, East Rutherford, New Jersey. Photo: Dustin Satloff

Tokyo 2022 Olympics, opening ceremony, Japan. Photo: Mark Edward Harris

Pittsburgh Penguins v New Jersey Devils National Hockey League. Photo: Bruce Bennett

Yasi Seidan, Rally Dakar 2021. Photo: Marian Chytka

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Football, boxing, Swimming, Tennis, paralympics, Formula 1, sports photography, 2022 olympics, naomi osaka

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