We select ten athletes aged under 23 ready to cause a stir in 2016.
Akani Simbine (RSA) – 100m/200m
Simbine could be the latest South African sprint star to sparkle in the wake of countrymen Anaso Jobodwana and Wayde van Niekerk.
The short and stocky University of Pretoria student enjoyed his best season to date in 2015. He equalled the national 100m record of 9.97 to take the World University title and reached the 200m semis at the Beijing World Championships, setting a personal best of 20.23 in the heats. Aged just 22, the passionate Chelsea FC fan will hope to feel anything but blue in 2016.
Ashraf Amgad Elseify (QAT) – Hammer
A hugely gifted age-group hammer thrower, Elseify has begun to show his potential as a senior athlete. The Egyptian-born thrower, who represents Qatar, landed back-to-back world junior titles in 2012 and 2014 – the former with a world junior record 85.57m.
Last year he competed as a fully-fledged senior and posted a national record 78.04m. In an event where athletes typically peak in their early 30s, the 20-year-old placed a respectable ninth with 74.09m at the Beijing World Championships.
Candace Hill (USA) – 100m/200m
Gene McCarthy, chief executive of the Asics America Group, described Hill as “a Halley’s comet of sport” when the shoe company signed her on a ten-year professional contract last month. The 16-year-old Georgian emerged as a superstar in the making last year by becoming the first high school athlete in history to dip below 11-seconds for the 100m (she ran 10.98, which would have won her silver at the 2008 Olympics). She also secured a sprint double at the World Youth Championships in Cali, clinching the 200m title in a world youth best 22.43.
That’s what led her to become the youngest American track and field athlete ever to turn professional, and she will no doubt hope that her new coach Tony Carpenter will lead her to Rio in 2016.
Eliza McCartney (NZL) – Pole vault
Last month, in her final competition as a junior, New Zealand pole vault protégé McCartney flipped over 4.64m in Auckland to set a world junior record and announce herself as a star in the making. In the athletics world, that fact was already known.
In 2014 the Kiwi overcame a bout of glandular fever to win world junior bronze and last year took silver at the World University Games. Still only 19, the physiology student has stated her intention to make the final in Rio.
Francine Niyonsaba (BDI) – 800m
Niyonsaba is hardly a new name, but having been away from the international scene for almost two years, the return of the 22-year-old Burundi national to the 800m fold will be eagerly awaited.
As a 19-year-old she ran 1:56.59 and finished sixth at London 2012. She started 2013 with a bang notching of a hat trick of Diamond League victories before disappearing from the competitive scene until late last year. She made a low-key return to competition in September before finishing her season with an impressive victory in 1:57.62 in Rieti, which indicates she could be set for a return to the big time in 2016.
Laura Muir (GBR) – 1500m
Branded “a tough cookie” by former 1500m world champion Steve Cram, the Scottish middle-distance athlete made giant leaps in 2015. After disappointing at the 2014 European Championships and Commonwealth Games, the 22-year-old bounced back last year, landing a first Diamond League win in Oslo (with a fantastic display of front running), set a lifetime best of 3:58.66 in Paris and finished fifth in a classy world championships 1500m final in Beijing. She is perfectly poised to step up over the metric mile distance in Rio.
Machel Cedenio (TTO) – 400m
His Twitter handle might be @MachPotato but the emerging Trinidadian one-lap star is certainly no spud. Winner of the 2014 world junior 400m title, Cedenio performed with distinction at the last year’s world champs, finishing seventh in the highest quality 400m final of all time and anchoring the silver medal winning Trinidad and Tobago relay team.
Those performances by the long-legged 20-year-old capped a year in which he had already posted a PB of 44.36 to win PanAm silver and clinched a maiden Diamond League win in Stockholm.
Nadine Visser (NED) – Heptathlon
The 20-year-old has the gifts to excel both as a single event and multi-event athlete, just like her training partner and good pal, the world 200m champion Dafne Schippers.
Visser, whose slight frame conceals unnerving power, emerged as an athlete of rich talent in 2014, taking world junior bronze in the heptathlon and 100m hurdles. Last year she enjoyed more success as a heptathlete, setting a PB 6467 points in Gotzis and placing eighth at the world champs. Still, as her 12.81 PB in the sprint hurdles in Beijing (the fastest of all the heptathletes by a tenth of a second) suggests, the Dutch athlete is far from finished in that event.
Robert Biwott (KEN) –1500m
The 2013 world youth 1500m champion has been an eye-catching performer for some time, and don’t be surprised to see the Kenyan step up in class again.
Still only 19 (he turns 20 later this month), last season the Kenyan was the fastest junior over 800m with 1:43.56 and 1500m thanks to a blistering 3:30.10 in Monaco. He narrowly missed out on a 1500m place for Beijing by finishing fourth at the Kenyan trials by just a quarter of a second. With a season of senior experience behind him, he could be a genuine force this year.
Wang Jianan (CHN) – Long jump
An established world-class athlete at the tender age of 19, emerging Chinese superstar Wang Jianan will make for compelling viewing in 2016. The former pole vaulter/decathlete switched to the long jump in 2012 and in his first season, aged just 16, he flew out to a stunning 8.04m.
The teenager from Liaoning province has built on that early promise. He secured the 2014 world junior crown, and last year set an Asian junior record of 8.25m in Shanghai before winning world champs bronze in Beijing.