Starting early: Pele, Tiger, Hingis and other precocious teens

With the Under-17 World Cup set to begin in India on October 6th, we look at six sporting legends who started early and announced their arrival on the big stage as teenagers.


What did he do?

Not many outside Brazil had heard of Edson Arantes do Nascimento before the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden; only few did not know who he was after the tournament.

Nicknamed Pele in school after he used to mispronounce the name of local Vasco da Gama keeper Bile', the 17-year-old who would go on to become Brazil's greatest ever footballer came to Sweden sidelined by a knee injury.

However, such was Pele's obvious talent that his team-mates insisted upon his selection, and he duly rewarded their faith in him, providing an assist against USSR in the first round and scoring a hat-trick against France in the semi-finals.

In the title clash against hosts Sweden, he became the youngest scorer in a World Cup final, finding the net twice in a 5-2 victory in Stockholm; his first goal, where he flicked the ball over a defender before volleying home, is now widely regarded as one of football's most iconic moments, and finds a place in nearly every "Greatest Goals" compilation.

What happened next

Pele did fairly well for himself, carving out a great career by all accounts: Three FIFA World Cups (the only player in history to do so), seven Ballon D'Ors. In 2000, he was officially named FIFA's Player of the Century by FIFA's "football family" for his contributions to the sport, both on and off the field.

He won numerous titles at club level with Santos, but arguably his finest moment came once again in Brazil colours, as he played another starring role in the 1970 World Cup final, scoring and assisting in a 4-1 victory against Italy in Mexico City.

Missy Franklin

What did she do?

Melissa Jeanette Franklin was not exactly a household name during the 2012 London Olympics, but she did arrive with big expectations, having won five medals as a 16-year-old at the 2011 World Aquatic Championships in Shanghai.

She qualified for four individual swimming events in London, and bagged gold in the 100m and 200m backstroke, setting a world record time of 2:04.06 in the latter. Franklin and her USA team-mates also knocked over the world record in the 4x100m medley, as she eventually left London with a haul of four golds and one bronze.

What happened next?

Following her exploits in London, Franklin was named the World Swimmer of the Year, and she carried her good form into the 2013 World Aquatics Championships in Barcelona, clinching six gold medals, a record for most golds won by a female swimmer at a single World Championships.

However, a back injury would take its toll on over the next few years, culminating in a disappointing Rio Games in 2016, where Franklin failed to win a single individual medal and had to settle for just one gold in the 4x200m freestyle event.

Franklin admitted that her problems in Rio were "100% emotional and mental", and not physical. "It was awful. It was miserable," she would later say of her experience. Sidelined by injury for most of this year, Franklin is currently taking some time off from the sport.

Tiger Woods

What did he do?

Even before he turned pro in 1996, Tiger Woods was already making heads turn in the golf world. At 15, he became the youngest ever US Junior Amateur champion. By 17, he became the only person in history to win the Junior Championship three times.

So after he turned pro, everything that followed was par for the course. In 1996, he was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year and also the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. In 1997, he became the youngest ever winner of the Masters, his first major honour, and the fastest to rise to No.1 in the Official World Golf Rankings. By the time he was 24, Woods had already achieved the Career Grand Slam and, unsurprisingly, remains the youngest ever to do so.

What happened next?

Woods continued to rack up title after title and record after record, but fell from grace in 2009, when he announced an indefinite hiatus from professional golf to focus on his personal life after allegations of infidelity on his part began making the rounds.

Several companies ended their sponsorship deals with Woods, and despite winning a few trophies, he struggled to regain his form after coming back. In July this year, after several injury-plagued seasons, Woods dropped out of the top 1000 in the rankings for the first time in his career.

Magnus Carlsen

What did he do?

A chess grandmaster at 13, Norway's Magnus Carlsen became the youngest person to surpass an Elo rating of 2800 and reach top spot in the FIDE rankings in 2010, at the age of 19.

In November 2013, he added the ultimate feather to his crown - the World Chess Championship - after defeating the vastly more experienced Viswanathan Anand. His exploits in 2013 even earned him a place in TIME Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

What happened next?

Carlsen defended his World Championship title against Anand in Sochi in 2014, and followed it up by winning both the World Rapid Championship as well as the World Blitz Championship; becoming the first person in history to hold all three titles simultaneously. He retained the title of World Champion in 2016 after defeating Sergey Karjakin in New York City.

Martina Hingis

What did she do?

Big things were in store for Swiss Martina Hingis after winning the junior girls' French Open title as a 12-year-old, the youngest ever to do so. Sure enough, Hingis took women's tennis by storm in the late 90s, breaking plenty of records in the process.

At 15, she became the youngest Grand Slam champion in history after winning the women's doubles title at Wimbledon in 1996. A year later, she clinched the Australian Open singles title to become the youngest ever winner in the 20th century. Hingis proceeded to win both the Wimbledon as well as US Open title in 1997, paving the way for her to become the youngest player to rise to No.1 in the rankings.

If that wasn't impressive enough, Hingis won all four Grand Slam women's doubles titles in 1998, making her the youngest to achieve the Career Slam in doubles.

By the time she turned 20, Hingis had already racked up 13 Grand Slam titles.

What happened next?

In February 2003, Hingis announced her retirement from tennis at the age of 23 due to a number of recurring injuries. She would make a brief return in 2005, only to step back again two years later.

Hingis made a second comeback in 2013, and found a new lease of life as a doubles specialist, winning numerous Grand Slam titles in both the women's doubles as well as mixed doubles. She won three major titles in 2017, eventually ascending to No.1 in the women's doubles rankings.

Max Verstappen

What did he do?

The son of former Formula One driver Jos Verstappen, Max made history on May 2016 at the Spanish Grand Prix by becoming the youngest ever F1 winner, as well as the youngest racer to secure a podium finish, breaking the records previously held by Sebastian Vettel.

Verstappen, who had begun the 2016 season at Toro Rosso, moved to Red Bull after swapping places with Daniil Kvyat, and finished fourth in qualifying in his first race for his new team. On race day in Montmelo, a two-stop strategy helped him hold off Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel to become the first Grand Prix winner born in the 90s.

Verstappen ended the 2016 season with a total of seven podium finishes.

What happened next?

Verstappen kicked off his 2017 season with a fifth-place finish in Australia, before securing a podium place (third) in China. After suffering seven retirements - including first-lap crashes in Spain, Austria and Singapore - in the next 12 races, he eventually secured the second win of his career at the Malaysian GP, a day after his 20th birthday.