Young sport stars shone bright

NZ HERALD reporter David Leggat reviews 6 of the best sports stars that shone bright from a young age.


"I was born for soccer, just as Beethoven was born for music." So said Pele, the Brazilian legend with magic in his boots.

Stocky and powerful and blessed with razor-like reflexes, he leapt to fame as a 17-year-old during the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. He didn't start the tournament, but his goal in the quarter-final beat Wales.

He got three more against France in the semifinal before scoring twice in the final against the hosts. One came after juggling the ball beyond two defenders in the 5-2 win. To cap it off, at the final whistle in the rain he cried like, well, a 17-year-old.

Twelve years later, he scored Brazil's opening goal en route to a 4-1 win over Italy in the final in Mexico.

Pele scored 1283 first-class goals, 77 of them in 92 internationals. The greatest goalscorer of them all.


It was the precocious German's victory at Wimbledon in 1985 which set him on the path to a place among the tennis greats.

At 17 years, 227 days, bouncing Boris, who was unseeded and largely unknown, toppled eighth-seeded South African, Kevin Curren 6-3, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (3), 6-4.

He won it twice more, beating Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg in 1986 and 1989, and lost four finals all the while becoming a Wimbledon crowd favourite.

In the days when Becker and compatriot German Steffi Graf bestrode the courts, one of England's tabloids tended to refer to them "jackbooting" their way through Wimbledon. Nice.

Becker is still the youngest men's champion in the most famous grasscourt tournament's history.


It's easy to forget 'Iron Mike' was just 20 years, four months and 22 days when he dispatched Trevor Berbick in Las Vegas in November 1986 to become the youngest heavyweight champion.

It gave the menacing Tyson a 28-0 win-loss record as a pro. His first 19 bouts were won by knockout, 12 in the first round, so he was rarely forced into a sweat in those days.

The Berbick demolition - a TKO in the second round - gave him the WBA, WBC and IBF titles in one or two blows.

It all started to go wrong when he was toppled by James "Buster" Douglas in Tokyo in 1990, his 38th fight, and first loss. You know the rest.


Don Bradman is always going to be known as cricket's greatest batsman, but Sachin Tendulkar is the next best thing.

The little genius from Mumbai made his test debut at 16 against Pakistan in Karachi in November 1989. He was clattered in the mouth by fearsome quick Waqar Younis but battled on in a blood-soaked shirt to 15.

His first test century arrived a year later and he hasn't looked back.

Tendulkar's 51 test hundreds, 48 in ODIs are both world records, as are his 14,692 test runs at 56.94 and 18,111 at 45.16 in ODIs. He's 38 and still going strong. Go figure.


Okay, we'll grant you Shane Gould or Ian Thorpe or, er, a few others out of the world's pools. But we'll go for Evans because she is trying, at the grand old age of 39, to qualify for next year's London Olympics.

Short and slightly built, the Californian was winning national age group titles at 11, and earned herself the nickname Miss Perpetual Motion.

At 15, she broke world records over 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle in 1987. A year later, she won three golds at the Seoul Olympics.

Her 400m world mark lasted 18 years; her 1500m time held off the world's best for 19 years. Her 8min 16.22s 800m record of August 1989 survived four Olympics.


We could have plumped for Francis Oimet, who won the 1913 US Open, aged 20, supported by a 10-year-old caddy, but instead let's pay homage to Rory's predecessor, the ageing Tiger Woods.

It's easy to forget Woods won the first of his 14 majors, the Masters in 1997, by a whopping 12 strokes.

He was then 21 and shook forever the notion that grand slam tournaments can only be won by men of more advanced years.

A few years earlier, Seve Ballesteros was another to put that idea to bed, winning the British Open - or The Open, as the Brits know it - in 1979 at 22.

And just to show it was no fluke, Woods blitzed the US Open field three years later by 15 strokes, the old, or young, show-off.

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