More and more Youth Olympic Games (YOG) athletes are making their mark on the global stage. Here, we highlight some of those who are set to make a big impact in 2019…
US sprinter Noah Lyles – who won 200m gold at the YOG Nanjing 2014 – has quickly emerged as the most likely candidate to inherit Usain Bolt’s crown as the global sprint king. The 21-year-old is yet to feature in a major international championship, but could become a household name in 2019 if he repeats his impressive form over 100m and 200m at this year’s IAAF World Championships in Doha (Qatar). Lyles finished 2018 as the fastest man in the world over 200m, having clocked 19.65 seconds at the IAAF Diamond League in Monaco, while he also set a personal best of 9.88s in the 100m when winning the highly competitive US national title. By the end of the year, he had also become only the second athlete – after a certain Mr Bolt – to run under 19.7s four times in a single season. Having missed the 2017 IAAF World Championships through injury, 2019 could finally be the year that sees Lyles anointed as sprinting’s next superstar.
China’s Fan Zhendong has already proven that YOG success can lead to great things on the senior table tennis circuit, having followed up his YOG Nanjing 2014 titles with an ascent to the pinnacle of the men’s world rankings. Now, his fellow Nanjing 2014 medallist Hugo Calderano is enjoying his own rise up the standings. After finishing 2017 ranked 31st in the world, the Brazilian YOG bronze medallist enjoyed a stellar season in 2018, becoming the first-ever player from Latin America to reach the top 10 of the ITTF World Rankings as he climbed to sixth position following a string of impressive results. None more so than in the season-ending ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, where the 22-year-old defeated former YOG rival Fan – the defending champion and overwhelming favourite – en route to winning the bronze medal. If he can repeat that form in 2019, he may find himself on the podium again at April’s ITTF World Championships.
Marijn Veen had an instant impact when she made her international debut for the Netherlands women’s hockey team in November 2018, scoring two goals in a 3-1 win against Japan at the Champions Trophy in Changzhou (China). By the end of the tournament, the YOG silver medallist – who scored in every match she played at Nanjing 2014 – had found the net a further three times to be crowned top goalscorer as the Netherlands swept to their seventh Champions Trophy title. To cap her impressive emergence on the international scene, Veen was also named Young Player of the Tournament and has now been nominated for the FIH Rising Star of the Year award. More accolades are sure to follow for this talented 22-year-old.
Australian swimmer Kaylee McKeown made a big splash in the pool at the YOG Buenos Aires 2018, winning three backstroke medals – including gold in the 50m – while she also earned a silver medal in the 4x100m medley relay. The 17-year-old’s main target for 2019 is likely to be the World Aquatics Championships in July, where she will not only be able to draw on her YOG success, but also her eye-catching performances at the 2017 World Championships, when she finished fourth in the 200m backstroke and won a silver medal in the 4x100m mixed medley relay. Australia already boasts one of the world’s finest backstroke swimmers in Emily Seebohm, and now McKeown looks well placed to challenge her on the international stage.
Japan’s Takeru Kitazono lit up the men’s artistic gymnastic competitions at the YOG Buenos Aires 2018, winning an incredible five gold medals. The teenage phenomenon – who has been hailed as the heir apparent to compatriot and three-time Olympic gold medallist Kohei Uchimura – will now hope to showcase his talents on the senior stage at October’s World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart (Germany), as he eyes a place on Japan’s team for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.