Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was released a quarter of a century ago last Saturday. Mighty and furious, Kurt Cobain’s angst filled and anthemic exploration of meaning and meaningless remains as powerful today as it was when released in 1991. As a man who, despite having heard it well over 2000 times, still can’t help but pump up the volume when I hear the heavy guitars and forceful drums when it comes on the radio, this anniversary makes me feel quite old.
But rather than count my grey hairs and cry, I have decided to commemorate this moment with a “Teen Spirit” List of Sport’s Greatest Teenage Sensations.
As a 15-year-old I was proud of my efforts to be a pretty handy back pocket for the Rye Footy Club Under 16’s. When Shane Gould was 15 she entered the Munich Olympics, the holder of the World Record in each of the five freestyle distances as well as the 200m Individual Medley. In the Munich pool she won Gold and bettered her own World Record in three events. She also took home a Silver and Bronze to become the first swimmer, male or female, to win Olympic medals in five individual events. Then two years later the teenage sensation became a teenage retiree.
In 1997 as a 17 year old, the ‘Swiss Miss’ dominated World Tennis, winning three of the four grand slams and a beaten finalist in the other. As a result she became the youngest ever World Number 1. By 22, having spent 209 total weeks as World Number 1 and winning five Grand Slam titles, she was retired. She has made two comebacks since but has not reached her early heights.
“First off you’ve got no first serve. And you’ve certainly got no second serve. You can’t hurt me. You can run but you better develop a weapon to survive out here”. Words that Ivan Lendl may have regretted after Michael Chang defeated the World Number 1 in a four-hour classic at Roland Garros, and described by Barry Tompkins as a “Magic Moment in Sport”. The 17-year-old Chang would go on to claim the French Open title, the youngest man to ever claim a Grand Slam crown.
Bangladeshi Mohammad Ashraful made an extraordinary Test Match debut. His 114 helping him claim the Man of the Match award and making him the youngest man to ever score a Test Match century. Ashraful later captained his country but his career never reached the heights that he reached as a teenager on Test Match debut.
The Manchester United skipper burst onto the Premier League scene as a 16-year-old for Everton, the clubs second youngest ever player. His knack for finding the back of the net meant he was quickly the youngest player to play an international for England, and to score in the Premier League and International play. Still only 18 years old he was sold by Everton for £25.6mil to Manchester United – a record transfer for a teenage player. He quickly repaid his new club, becoming the youngest player to score a hat-trick in the Champions League in his United debut. Having won every trophy available at club level and holding or closing in on most scoring records, Rooney is a rare breed of teenage sensation who parlayed teenage promise into a long and successful career.