The Rundown

Top 10 sporting teenagers

The Rundown

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Chelsea's £20 million deal to sign 18-year-old Belgian Romelu Lukaku has left many people wondering how the club can justify such a hefty outlay on a young player.

But nobody in Belgium was surprised that the Blues had made a move for the striker dubbed the "new Didier Drogba".

The 6'3" Lukaku proved a sensation after being drafted into Anderlecht's first team in 2009, and has since scored 41 goals in 98 matches for the Jupiler Pro League side, even finishing as the league's top scorer in his first full season.

Lukaku is not the first sporting star to hit the top while still in his teens, however. Here's our pick of the top 10 teenagers who took their respective sports by storm when most of their peers were still at school.

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Football: Wayne Rooney

Michael
Owen might have been just 18 when he became a global superstar with his World
Cup goal against Argentina in 1998, but Manchester United and England striker Rooney
beat him to the punch in terms of making a mark while he should have been at
school.

The star of
Everton's youth team, he made his debut for the Toffees in August 2002 at the
age of just 16, and in October of that year scored a historic last-gasp winner
at Arsenal that prompted Arsene Wenger to describe him as "the biggest
England talent I've seen since I arrived in England".

That goal propelled
him into the national consciousness -
despite the fact that he was still three months away from signing his first
professional contract.

Rooney was quickly
drafted into the England side, and was a key player for the Three Lions at Euro
2004 while still just 18. He moved to Manchester United that summer for £25m,
and the rest is history.

Cycling: Henri Cornet

The French
cyclist was vaguely known as a talented rider with an excellent amateur record when
he lined up in the Tour de France in 1904, aged just 19 and in his maiden
season as a professional.

And what a
Tour it was. After a successful first edition the year before, the second Tour
descended into farce as cyclists snuck on to trains, got cars to tow them and
even got beaten up by fans during a climb near St Etienne.

Cornet
battled on - despite riding the last 40km of the final stage on flat tyres
after fans threw nails on to the road - and eventually crossed the line to
finish in what he thought was fifth place, three hours behind 'winner' Maurice
Garin.

But he
didn't stay there for long. As a result of the outrageous cheating, Garin and the next three riders were disqualified - and teenage
Cornet was named the winner.

He remains the race's youngest winner at 19 years, 11 months and 20 days.

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Cricket: Sachin Tendulkar

Tendulkar is the complete batsman and perhaps the most worshipped
cricketer in the world today - and he has been at the top of the game since
making his Test match debut in 1989 at the tender age of just 16. Just a year later Tendulkar
compiled his first masterful century at the age of 17 to save a match against
England at Old Trafford.

In 2008,
the Mumbai-born batsman recorded his 50th Test century and surpassed Brian Lara as the leading Test run-scorer.  The 'Little Master' holds pretty much every
batting record possible, including scoring the most runs and centuries in
Tests and ODIs, and the most international runs.

Now 38,
Tendulkar is eyeing his 100th international 100 - an accolade which would be
apt in showcasing the immense talent and profile held by one of the game's
greatest ever batsmen.

Boxing: Wilfred Benitez

Mike Tyson was
making waves in the heavyweight division while still a teenager, but it still
took him until the ripe old age of 20 to win his first world title.

But while
Tyson is the youngest ever heavyweight champ, and Oscar de la Hoya matched his feat of becoming a world champion at 20, both pale in comparison with the precociousness of boxing's youngest ever world
champ.

Benitez, a Puerto Rican New Yorker who turned
professional aged 15, won his first world title, the WBA light
welterweight crown, just two years later.

Benitez
retained the title three times before moving up weights not once but twice,
winning first the WBC welterweight title then the WBC light middleweight title -
becoming at the age of 22 the youngest boxer ever to hold belts in three
different weight divisions.

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Gymnastics: Nadia Comaneci

It's hard
to believe that Nadia Comaneci will turn 50 this year. The gymnast's name was
indelibly written on the history of the Olympic Games in 1976 when, at the
tender age of just 14, she won a hat-trick of gold medals in Montreal.

As a 13-year-old
she had served notice of her talent with golds in all but one event at the
European Championships of 1975 - she settled for silver on the floor exercise -
but it was a year later that she made her mark. On the uneven bars she scored
the first perfect '10' score in Games history, and she added successes in the
balance beam and all-around competitions to that tally.

To prove it
was no flash in the pan, she won another two golds four years later in Moscow
before retiring in 1981, still in her teens.

Athletics: Bob Mathias

One of the
great natural athletes of the 20th century, the Californian schoolboy decided
to have a go at the decathlon on the advice of his coach, Virgil Jackson, while
still just 17.

Mathias was
an accomplished sprinter and discus thrower, but had never even attempted the pole
vault, long jump, javelin or 1500m when he decided to give it a go - yet just five
weeks later he won the selection event to make the US team for the 1948 London
Olympics.

Mathias
turned up in England and, despite almost fouling out of the high jump, easily
won the gold medal while still three months shy of his 18th birthday.

He did not
impress contemporaries with his style, however, with one reporter claiming:
"He gripped the spear like a guy killing a chicken. He went over the vault
like a guy falling out of a moving car and his high jump looked like a guy
leaving a banana peel. All he did was win."

With
several years of training behind him he easily repeated his success at the 1952
Games in Helsinki, setting a new world record in the process.

But he was more
than just a track and field athlete: Mathias scored two late touchdowns to lead Stanford to victory
in the Rose Bowl in 1951 and went on to become a Hollywood actor and US Congressman.

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Diving: Tom Daley

When Tom
Daley was selected to dive for Britain at the Beijing Olympics while just 14
years old, many people initially assumed that it was a publicity stunt in an
event where Britain had little chance of success.

Nothing
could have been further from the truth: Daley, a British U18 champion at the
age of 10, is the real deal and went on to justify the selectors' faith by finishing
seventh in the 10m platform event - an event which he went on to win at the
World Championships a year later in Rome.

Daley had already missed out on becoming diving's youngest Olympic
champion, however: that honour goes to Marjorie Gestring, who is
the youngest Olympic champ in any event.

American
Gestring won gold in the 3m springboard at the 1936 Berlin Games aged just 13
years 268 days.

Unfortunately
World War II meant she did not have the chance to defend her title during the following eight
years and she failed to qualify when the London Games came around in 1948.

Swimming: Krisztina Egerszegi

Born in Budapest in 1974, the girl nicknamed 'Mouse'
competed in her first international event in 1987, aged just 13, when she raced
in the 200m and 100m backstroke - coming fourth and fifth respectively.

That early promise was no fluke. A
year later in Seoul she became the youngest female Olympic champion in
swimming as she won the 200m backstroke at just 14 years 41 days old, also
picking up silver in the 100m.

Egerszegi went
on to pick up more gold medals at the 1991 World and European Championships,
setting world records for her favoured two events along the way, before reaching
the peak of her career at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Aged just
18, she won three individual gold medals, adding the 400m medley to her two
regular events.  She was the only female
athlete at the Games to win three individual golds.

The Hungarian's incredible
success continued as she won four gold medals at the 1993 European Championships and
returned to the Olympics on one further occasion, winning her last gold in the 200m
backstroke at the 1996 Atlanta Games aged 22 - eight years after winning her
first.

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Tennis: Boris Becker

Tennis was a
difficult decision. We considered giving Michael Chang the nod after
his feat of winning the French Open at 17, becoming the youngest male
Grand Slam champion. And we were also tempted to go for Martina Hingis for her extraordinary
achievement of winning three of the four Grand Slam singles titles in 1996
while still just 16.

But Chang
never won another Grand Slam tournament, while Hingis's precociousness is less impressive
for the simple fact that female tennis stars invariably hit the top by the
time they're 18, or not at all.

Becker's youthful
brilliance, by contrast, was both a huge shock to the tennis-watching public
and the beginning of a stellar career. The giant blond 17-year-old turned up
at Wimbledon in 1985 as a surprise winner of the Queen's Club tournament a
couple of weeks previously, but he was not expected to be a serious contender.

With his
devastating serve and astonishing athleticism (he usually ended up covered in
dust from throwing himself around the court), Becker stormed through the draw
to become the first unseeded player to win the title. He successfully defended it a year later - and ended up with six Grand Slam victories to his name.

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Golf: Seve Ballesteros

Sure, young
Tom Morris won four Open Championship titles by the time he was 21; but he was
both the son of the game's first legendary professional, Old Tom, and was
playing in an era when the game barely stretched beyond Fife, let alone the
rest of the world.

Compare
that to the exploits of the late genius, a greenkeeper's son from rural Spain, who reinvigorated golf on an entire continent - and it all started when
he qualified to play in The Open at Royal Birkdale in 1976 just a few weeks
after turning 19.

Seve's
dazzling style - huge, wild drives off the tee allied to breathtaking escape
shots - saw him build a two-shot lead going into the final round, though he
eventually finished tied for second behind Johnny Miller and alongside Jack
Nicklaus.

The Spaniard
won The Open at Lytham three years later and went on to win a total of five
Major titles, spearhead the era of European Ryder Cup dominance and inspire a
generation of players before his tragic death earlier this year.

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