Daley, Rooney, Biles, Verstappen: Nine athletes who truly burst onto the global scene

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Six-time Olympic champion Jason Kenny joined presenters Jake Humphrey and Damian Hughes on the High Performance Podcast this week.

When discussing the mindset of young athletes who burst onto the scene compared to that of more seasoned professionals such as himself, Kenny said:

“The main difference between me and the 18-year-olds that burst on the scene is that I cope with disappointment a lot better now. I think, you know, it’s very frustrating as a young athlete, it’s hard to deal with when you get knocked back. But, you know, again that’s just part of your development.”

Off the back of Kenny’s comments, let’s take a look at some of the athletes who have made a huge impact after bursting on to the scene at a young age.

Tom Daley

Tom Daley burst onto the scene in January 2007, when, at the age of twelve, he was given special dispensation to compete at the 2007 Australian Youth Olympic Festival, even though competitors usually have to be fifteen to enter.

Competing with his partner Callum Johnstone, Daley won silver in the 10m synchronised-diving final before going on to win BBC Sports Personality of the Year Young Personality award the same year.

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He then made his Olympic debut in Beijing in 2008, before finishing third in the 10m platform in London in 2012 and the synchronised 10m platform in Rio in 2016.

This year he became the first Team GB diver to win four Olympic medals, having won gold in Tokyo in the 10m synchro with Matty Lee, and his third bronze medal in the 10m platform.

Coco Gauff

After an impressive junior career that saw her become world No. 1 junior, Coco Gauff made her professional debut on the ITF Women's Circuit in May 2018 as a qualifier in the $25K event at Osprey where she won her first professional match.

She then received a wild card entry into qualifying at the US Open but lost her opening match five months after turning 14.

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In 2019 she won her first WTA title alongside Paige Hourigan in the doubles category while also reaching the singles final, before making her Wimbledon debut after getting a wild card to enter the qualifying round.

She famously beat World No.44 Venus Williams in straight sets in her main draw debut before going on to rout defending champion Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open in 2020.

Read more: The High Performance Podcast hub

Emma Raducanu

Emma Raducanu began playing tennis at Bromley Tennis Academy when she was just five. She made her WTA Tour main draw debut at the 2021 Nottingham Open, where she gained entry on a wildcard.

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Coached by Nigel Sears, the father of Andy Murray’s wife, Kim, since the age of 15, Raducanu made her Wimbledon debut earlier this year.

After recording victories over Vitalia Diatchenko and Markéta Vondroušová, she became, at 18, the youngest British woman to reach the Wimbledon third round since Elena Baltacha in 2002.

She then defeated Sorana Cîrstea to reach the fourth round before having to retire from her match against Ajla Tomljanović due to breathing difficulties.

Theo Walcott

Theo Walcott made waves when, at just 16, he was signed by Arsenal for an initial fee of £5 million in 2006.

In May that year he made his international debut, becoming England’s youngest-ever senior player thanks to a substitute appearance in a 3-1 friendly victory over Hungary at Old Trafford.

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Before he’d had a chance to make his Arsenal debut, Walcott was called up to the England squad for the 2006 World Cup in a move that shocked the football world, although didn’t make a single appearance at the competition.

Walcott then made his Premier League debut for Arsenal in August 2006. After 270 appearances for the club he left to join Everton in January 2018.

Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen became the youngest driver to compete in Formula One when he made his debut at the 2015 Australian Grand Prix, aged just 17 years and 166 days. His racing career began in karting when he was just four years old.

He then had a brief stint in testing before making his racing debut in the Florida Winter Series in 2014.

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Verstappen won his first formula race at Palm Beach International Raceway after he started from pole before going on to compete in the FIA European Formula 3 Championship for Van Amersfoort Racing later that year.

Verstappen became Formula One’s youngest ever race winner when he finished first at the Spanish Grand Prix in 2016, aged 18 years and 228 days.

In his first eight races with Red Bull he achieved six top-five finishes, including four podiums. In his Formula One career to date, the former teenage sensation has recorded 15 wins and 50 podium appearances in 130 starts.

Floyd Mayweather

Floyd Mayweather first burst on to the boxing scene at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where he won bronze by reaching the semi-finals of the featherweight division aged just 19.

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He then won his first professional bout later that year, knocking out Roberto Apodaca in the second round of their Super Featherweight fight.

Within two years of entering professional boxing, Mayweather had won the WBC Super Featherweight Championship thanks to an eighth-round technical knockout of Genaro Hernández.

During his career, Mayweather went on to win fifteen major world championships from super featherweight to light middleweight, including the Ring magazine title in five weight classes, the lineal championship in four weight classes (twice at welterweight), and retired with an undefeated record.

Sky Brown

At the age of 10, Sky Brown became the youngest professional skateboarder in the world.

In 2016, aged 8, Brown took part in the Vans US Open, making her the youngest person ever to compete at the event.

In 2017, she came second in the Asian Continental Finals before finishing in the top 10 of the 2018 Vans Park Series, winning the US TV show Dancing with the Stars: Juniors and finishing third at the 2019 World Skateboarding Championship.

In May 2020, she suffered a fall from a halfpipe ramp while training in California that left her with several skull fractures and a broken left wrist and hand.

Recovering in time to compete at the delayed 2020 Olympics, she went on to become Great Britain's youngest ever medallist after bringing home the bronze.

Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney made his professional debut for Everton at the age of 16 in August 2002.

But he became an overnight sensation a few months later when he scored an absolute wonder goal against Arsenal that made him the, then, youngest goal scorer in Premier League history.

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Rooney made his England debut in 2003 before joining Manchester United for £27 million in 2004, scoring a hat trick on his debut against Fenerbahce.

He made 393 appearances for the club, scoring 183 goals and winning five Premier League titles and the Champions League in that time.

Although, as part of the ‘Golden Generation’, Rooney didn’t achieve international success with England, he won 120 caps, making him the nation's most-capped outfield player of all time, scoring 53 goals in that time.

Simone Biles

Simone Biles first tried gymnastics at six years old as part of a day-care field trip.

After enrolling in an optional training programme at Bannon's Gymnastics, she began training with coach Aimee Boorman at age eight.

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She then began her elite career at age 14 at the 2011 American Classic in Houston, where she finished third all-around.

Biles made her senior international debut at the 2013 American Cup, a FIG World Cup event before rising to global prominence at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, where she won four gold medals and a bronze.

By winning bronze at this year’s Olympics, Biles tied Shannon Miller for most Olympic medals by an American female gymnast with seven total and Larisa Latynina of the Soviet Union for most medals won by a female gymnast of all time with 32 combined World and Olympic medals.

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