The Greatest Child Prodigies in Sports
The term, ‘child prodigy’, is generally used to describe children under the age of 13 who show exceptional ability, comparable to that of the most skilled adults, in a particular field of human endeavour. Though the term ‘child prodigy’ invokes images of youthful math geniuses or musicians, the international sports scene has seen more than its fair share of sporting child prodigies over the years.
It should come as no surprise that one of the greatest golfers of all time should have shown signs of his genius at an early age. Woods began playing golf at the age of 2, and made his first television appearance as a golfer before his 3rd birthday, by taking on comedian Bob Hope in a putting contest on the Mike Douglas Show.
At the age of 3, Woods had shot a score of 48 over 9 holes at the Navy Golf Club in Cypress, California – an average of around 5 shots per hole. By the age of 5 Woods had made it to the pages of Golf Digest. In 1984, at age 8, Woods was entered into the Junior World Golf Championships for 9-10 year olds, and won.
Woods would win the title a further 5 times as a junior player, and by the age of 15 had become the youngest US Amateur Champion in the history of the sport.
See Tiger at 2 yrs old on Youtube and aged 15 with his family.
As the daughter of a Hungarian tennis coach, it is perhaps not surprising that Martina Hingis began her career as a tennis player at the age of 2. At the age of 4, Hingis was entered into her first tournament. After the divorce of her parents when she was 6, Hingis continued playing tennis and by the time she had reached her 13th birthday had become the youngest player in history to claim a junior grand slam title.
More record breaking efforts were to follow from the young star, now living with her mother in Switzerland. In 1996 Hingis became the youngest ever grand slam winner, by winning the Wimbledon doubles title at the age of 15. Hingis went on to win the Australian Open title the following season, becoming the youngest grand slam singles winner of the 20th century at the age of 16.
Probably the finest player to have graced a football field, Pelé began playing football as a child in the streets of São Paulo, Brazil. The young Brazilian could not afford a football, and therefore developed his skills using a grapefruit or socks stuffed with newspaper.
At the age of 14 Pelé was invited to join the Ameriquinha youth team. A year later his skills earned him a call-up to the Santos FC junior team. At age 16 he was selected for the national team, and scored on debut. At the age of 17, Pelé became the youngest player to score in a Football World Cup match, and scored twice in the final of the 1958 World Cup, becoming the youngest World Cup winner in history.
The most prolific run scorer in the history of test cricket began his cricket career as a pace bowler, when still a child. The young Tendulkar was good enough to secure a place at the MRF Pace Foundation, but was soon advised to focus on batting.
That advice set Tendulkar on the path to greatness. By the age of 15 Tendulkar had developed a reputation as the scourge of bowlers throughout Mumbai, and after scoring an innings of 346 that reduced the bowlers in the opposing team to tears, Tendulkar was called up for first class cricket by Mumbai.
Tendulkar scored a century on debut for Mumbai, becoming the youngest ever player to do so in first class cricket. A year later, at the age of 16, Tendulkar was called up to the Indian national team. The 16 year old would go on to score a 50 during the test series against Pakistan.
One of the finest players in the history of professional snooker, Ronnie O’Sullivan first showed signs of his ability as a child. At the age of 10, O’Sullivan astounded his family by scoring his first century. At the age of 15, O’Sullivan made history by becoming the youngest player in history to make a perfect break during the English Amateur Championship.
It didn’t take long for O’Sullivan to move on to the professional circuit. At the age of 17, the young snooker player made headlines by beating the finest player in the history of the sport, Stephen Hendry, in the final of the UK Championship.