The Animated Sports Hall of Fame: Korra

Recognizing the animated athletes who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in sport and sportsmanship.

The Animated Sports Hall of Fame recognizes animated athletes who best demonstrate sport and sportsmanship. These characters have woven themselves into the culture of their sport. We honour their achievements with a thorough breakdown of how their personality encompasses the sport they represent. Our second inductee: Korra.

Korra is the Avatar, tasked to protect the physical and spiritual worlds by bending the elements of air, water, earth, and fire to keep balance and harmony between the four elements’ nations. And she loves to beat people up—not something you’d expect from the keeper of peace, but for Korra it makes sense. The Avatar’s job is to fight Evil. Plus, she’s the most powerful bender in the world and she knows it.

Her natural athleticism and passion for combat make her one the best athletes depicted on television. Korra’s a fighter.

Korra was fighting before she existed. Following the success of Avatar: The Last Airbender, creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino pitched a spinoff series to Nickelodeon following the next Avatar reincarnation—a waterbender named Korra.
Intended to invert the pacifist protagonist of the previous series, Korra was designed to be a physical and aggressive character. Her look was inspired by female Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters including Gina Carano. Nickelodeon was initially reluctant with Korra as the main character, fearing their male demographic wouldn’t be interested in watching a female, minority protagonist. After a positive reception from test screenings amongst young boys and a bit more persuading of executives, the show was greenlit and premiered on Nickelodeon in 2012 as a 12-part mini-series.

- Advertisement - 

The combat in Korra is based on forms of Chinese Martial Arts that reflect the personalities of the nations’ element. Waterbenders move with the flow of energy practiced in Tai Chi. Earthbenders use strong rooted stances from Hung Ga. Firebenders fight with the ferocity of Northern Shaolin, and Airbenders utilize the circular movement of Bagua. The choreography between these fighting styles is one of the series’ highlights. Korra is the best in Eastern-inspired animation matched with the best in Western storytelling.

When we meet Korra in Book 1, she has mastered the three physical elements (water, earth, and fire) but struggles with air. Her aggression and short temper oppose the evasive and passive nature of airbending. Her teacher warns that “being the Avatar isn’t all about fighting.”

Impatient, Korra travels to Republic City to learn airbending, where her difficulties with airbending continue. Needing a pick-me-up, she competes in the fictional sport of Pro-bending—a mix of bending, team boxing, and tricking that was conceived with consultation with MMA fighters Jeremy Humphries and Mac Danzig. Through Pro-bending Korra discovers airbending by weaving though attacks to tire her opponents and meets her best friends Mako, Bolin, and Asami.

One of her matches is threatened for cancellation due to threats of terrorism, but Korra convinces the city council to resume the event, highlighting the power that sport has in unifying people of all sides of life. By the end of the season, she loses the Pro-bending final, learns airbending, defeats the baddie, unlocks the Avatar state, and gets the guy. A nice, happy ending.

The series received a favourable response and was renewed. In Book 2, Korra hadn’t changed, using airbending and the all-powerful Avatar State to win an air-scooter race. For Korra the Avatar State is another way of knowing she’ll always win. She’s fights spirits, mentors, and her boyfriend (leading to their breakup). When her avatar spirit is taken, it is her fighting spirit that saves the day. At season’s end she’s a wounded Avatar, earning a healthy dose of humility.

Book 3 further pushed what could be depicted in children’s television. Korra is kidnapped and poisoned by a group of anarchists. Her battle against them breaks her body and paralyzes her. Bound to a wheelchair, the world leaders vow take on her responsibilities as she recovers. It’s Korra’s nightmare—unable to fight, and worse, having someone else fight for her.

In Book 4, Korra battles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) brought on from her poisoning. She suffers depression and undergoes a painful rehabilitation. Korra is fighting herself. At her lowest point she relies on underground cage fighting to survive.

Through her suffering Korra gains perspective and, over time, is able to release her fear. She seeks to solve her problems with non-violence, and her empathy for her final foe, Kuvira, wins peace for the world.

In the series finale in 2014, Korra’s fights had spread off the screen. She begins a romantic relationship with the female engineer, Asami, becoming the first bisexual character in Western children’s animation.

The ending, aired one year before gay marriage was legalized in the United States, was hailed as an achievement in the representation of LGBT members in media.

Unlike most protagonists who grow stronger over their story, Korra starts at her physical peak and becomes weaker as she is beaten harder and harder. But by finding meaning in her suffering, she develops the compassion needed to fight for others. She belongs in the Animated Sports Hall of Fame because her fighting spirit and mental toughness have won victories for herself and so many.

“Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.”

– Muhammad Ali

Grandstand End Content Logo

Michael Winkler
Michael Winkler
Michael Winkler is a writer at Grandstand Central, with a focus on hockey, European football, animation, and science.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


The Latest

cupping therapy

What is “cupping therapy” and does it actually work?

Cupping therapy came into the public eye when Olympian Michael Phelps was seen with circular bruise-type marks on his scapula (shoulder blade), neck, and shoulder. 

U.S. Women’s Soccer Wouldn’t Be Where it is Today without Jill Ellis

Jill Ellis has the most successful coaching career in all soccer history and after two consecutive World Cups, she's saying goodbye.
wendy hilliard gymnastics

Wendy Hilliard On Making Gymnastics Accessible

Plus, the meaning of life after sports.

The Rise of Major League Eating, America’s New Favorite Pastime

Major League Eating made competitive eating a successful, nation-wide sport and it all trails back to a hot dog eating contest from way back when.
Art Shamsky Amazin' Mets

Art Shamsky on Aging and the Amazin’ Mets

Plus, his thoughts on the Hall and missing out on the Big Red Machine.
The Saints Entertainment All-Stars

The Circus Surrounding Baseball in St. Paul

Don't be surprised if the Saints' Entertainment All-Stars steal the show at the 2019 American Association All-Star Game at CHS Field in St. Paul.