To get to the top it takes countless hours of hard work, a fierce desire to be the best, and dedication to achieving your goals. You can claim there are no shortcuts to greatness, but the simple fact is some people start out with a definite advantage. When you’ve got it, you’ve got it, and these 12 amazing child sports prodigies started hitting their stride earlier than most.
The youngest person ever to win an Olympic gold medal, Marjorie was just 13 years, 268 days old when she came out on top during the 1936 summer games. Marjorie won her gold in 3-meter springboard diving, but her attempts to repeat were thwarted when the Olympics were cancelled in 1940 and 1944.
Her record remains intact 75 years later, and with a minimum age of 14 required for all competitors, it should be safe for quite some time.
At three years of age he was already skating, by the age of six he was playing alongside ten-year-olds, and by age thirteen he’d already scored over 1,000 goals. As a kid, Gretzky was so dominant that he’d actually receive boos from other player’s parents, angry that he was generating too much attention. By the time he was old enough to compete at the major junior level, he broke the single season scoring record and won Rookie of the Year honors.
When Gretzky retired from the NHL in 1999 he was generally regarded as the greatest hockey player of all time, and his famous number 99 was retired by every team in the league.
Born to professional tennis players Melanie Molitorová and Karol Hingis, Martina was playing tennis by age two and entered her first tournament at the age of four. When Hingis was 12-years-old, she became the youngest player to win a Grand Slam junior title with a victory at the French Open, and she made her professional debut just two years later.
Despite an impressive career that included five Grand Slam titles, Hingis was sidelined by injuries and announced her retirement at the age of 22.
Michelle Wie started playing golf at the age of four, and at the age of 11 she won the most prestigious women’s amateur tournament in Hawaii. In 2003, at the age of 13, Wie became the youngest player ever to make an LPGA cut. Generating a slew of endorsement deals, in 2007 Wie was listed as one of Forbes’ Top 20 Earners Under 25, with an estimated annual income of $19 million.
Now, at the age of 21, Michelle Wie is still playing professional golf and has two LPGA wins under her belt.
Spotted by former soccer great turned talent scout Waldemar de Brito, Pelé tried out for his first professional club at the age of 15, with de Brito telling the team’s management that Pelé would be "the greatest football player in the world." By age 16 Pelé was playing on the Brazilian National Team, and by 17 he had already won his first World Cup. After leading Brazil to their third consecutive World Cup in 1966, the government declared Pelé an "official national treasure" in order to prevent European League teams from poaching their star.
By the time he retired, Pelé had scored a total of 1281 goals in 1363 games, placing him in the history books as the top scorer of all time.
In just his sophomore season of high school, Lebron James averaged an incredible 25.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 3.8 steals per game, making him the youngest player ever to be given USA Today All-USA First Team honors. From there, his numbers only got better, and he led St.Vincent-St. Mary's to three consecutive state titles. Lebron James entered the NBA draft in 2003 to unprecedented levels of hype, and was selected as the first overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
James went on to win Rookie of the Year honors, two NBA MVP Awards, and has been named to the All Star Team for seven consecutive years. He is also the youngest player to score 15,000 points, a total unlikely to be matched now that the NBA won’t allow draft picks directly out of high school.
Much like Gretzky, Crosby began playing hockey at the age of two and was skating by the time he was three. At the age of 14 he scored 217 regular season and playoff points, leading his Midget AAA team to second place in the Air Canada Cup and picking up an MVP Award and Top Scorer honors along the way. Catching the attention of numerous scouts and analysts, Gretzky praised Crosby as the the best player he’d seen since Mario Lemieux, and claimed he could eventually topple the scoring record.
Crosby was selected as the first pick in the 2005 NHL Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, and helped lead them to a Stanley Cup victory in 2009.
Easily one of the most famous child sports prodigies, Tiger Woods was featured on The Mike Douglas Show when he was just two years old, putting against Bob Hope. By the time he reached five, Woods had appeared in Golf Digest and on ABC's That's Incredible, and at the age of eight he won the youngest division available (9-10 years) at the Junior World Golf Championships. In high school Woods became the youngest U.S. Junior Amateur champion, when he won the title at the age of 15.
Upon turning pro in 1996, Woods generated record shattering endorsement deals with Nike and Titleist, and has been named PGA Player of the Year on ten occasions.
One of the youngest athletes to ever sign a pro sports contract in the U.S., Adu was drafted by D.C. United in 2004 at just 14 years of age. Along with this achievement came a couple of other youth related records, as Adu became the youngest player ever to play in an MLS game and the youngest player to score a goal.
Adu was recently selected for the U.S. National Team in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, although he only played in two of the six tournament matches.
In a sport as brutally physical as boxing, turning pro at the age of 13 is no small feat. However, in 1926 Alberto “Baby” Arizmendi did exactly that. Over his career, Arizmendi would win a total of 71 fights and become the featherweight world title holder, but it’s his legacy as the youngest boxer ever to turn pro that continues to live on.
In 2004, Arizmendi was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
At just 18 months Sheckler was already skateboarding, and by 13 he’d turned pro. That same year, he went on to become the youngest X Games gold medalist ever, taking top honors in Skateboard Streetpark. During his career, he’s already accumulated four more X Games Medals, and started a clothing line carried by J.C. Penney stores nationwide.
Sheckler has appeared in multiple movies, and from 2007 to 2009 he had his own reality show on MTV titled "Life of Ryan."
At 14, Rubio became the youngest player ever to play in the Spanish ACB League. During the 2006 FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship, Rubio led his team to a double overtime victory in the final game, posting a stat line of 51 points, 24 rebounds, 12 assists, and 7 steals. In 2009 he was selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves as the fifth overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Despite being drafted in 2009, Rubio will be suiting up with the Timberwolves for the first time in 2011, and only time will tell whether he can live up to the franchise’s hefty expectations.