One of the biggest early stories of the 2012 Olympic games has been the emergence of 17-year old American swimmer Missy Franklin. Not only did Franklin win the gold in the 100-meter backstroke, she energized the nation with her youthful exuberance, on full display when she responded to a personal tweet from Justin Bieber with open giddiness.
In honor of Franklin, here are the top-10 teenage U.S. Summer Olympians in history.
Dubbed the "unofficial team mascot," the Unibrow made the 2012 Olympic team after multiple injuries to other American big men. Davis finds himself on this list more for his potential than what he has done thus far in this Olympics. If Davis' accomplishments at the University of Kentucky are any indication, we may be able to look back at 2012 as the start of a long and accomplished Olympic career.
9. Shawn Johnson, Gymnastics: 16 Years Old (2008)
Johnson is easily one of the most popular Olympians of the modern era, having appeared in many commercials and "Dancing With the Stars." However, her accomplishments in Beijing in 2008 were even more impressive, where she won the individual balance beam gold medal, and silver medals in all-around, individual floor exercise, and team.
8. Amanda Beard, Swimming: 14 Years Old (1996)
Beard made her debut on the Olympic scene while still a high schooler, winning three medals (one gold and two silver). Similar to Franklin, her youth shined through as she garnered a significant amount of media attention for routinely clutching her teddy bear during the Games, even on the medal stand.
7. Nancy Lieberman, Basketball: 18 Years Old (1976)
The basketball Hall of Famer helped lead the U.S. team to a silver medal in the first women's basketball competition in Olympic history. Lieberman would play a pivotal role on the team and then go on to play a pivotal role in the development of women's basketball as a player, coach, and television analyst.
6. Kerri Strug, Gymnastics: 18 Years Old (1996)
Strug is the star of one of the most iconic scenes in Olympic history. After hurting her ankle on the vault earlier in the competition, Strug was up last on the vault in the team competition. With the ankle taped, she took off with the country collectively holding its breath, and she stuck the landing before collapsing in pain. Strug's vault catapulted the U.S. women's gymnastics team to the gold medal, and she immediately became an Olympic hero.
Before he was "The Golden Boy," he was just Oscar De La Hoya, amateur boxer. Prior to the 1992 to games in Barcelona, De La Hoya promised his ill mother that he would win the gold medal. After her death, De La Hoya fufilled that promise and took home the gold, defeating Marco Rudolph of Germany in the final and avenging a past loss. The Olympics would lead to one of the most lucrative boxing careers in U.S. history, which now includes promoting fights.
4. Marjorie Gestring, Diving: 13 Years Old (1936)
Gestring, at 13 years and 268 days old, won the gold medal in the 3-meter springboard dive event at Berlin in 1936. To this day, Marjorie remains the youngest Olympic gold medalist in history. No word if she got a telegraph from Fred Astaire in congratulations.
3. Bob Mathias, Decathlon: 17 Years Old (1948)
At the young age of 17, Mathias won the gold medal in the decathlon after only taking up the sport four months before. Mathias was the youngest male athlete to ever win gold at an Olympic track and field event. From there, Mathias would be catapulted into the public lore, starring in movies and television series, and being elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
2. Mary Lou Retton, Gymnastics: 16 Years Old (1984)
At the 1984 games, Retton would have a historic haul, winning the gold medal in women's all-around, two silver medals, and two bronzes. Scoring two improbable perfect 10s to win the gold, Retton was the first ever American woman to win the gold in all-around, and her five medals were the most won by any athlete at the 1984 Games.
Phelps made his Olympic debut in 2000 at 15 years old. However, the star took off in 2004. Prior to the Games in Athens, there was talk that Phelps was shooting for a record eight gold medals. Although Phelps was "only" able to take home six gold medals (along with two bronze), his legend was firmly in place, setting up the eight golds four years later in Beijing. On the strength of his performances, Phelps has become one of the most recognizable faces and most accomplished athletes in Olympic history.
It is possible that Missy Franklin will eventually make this list. Did I miss anyone?
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Del Pearson is a lifelong Olympics fan who has watched every Summer Games with his family since his birth. Del especially enjoys basketball, track, and diving events.