From gold medals to bronze Heismans, 2012 was a coming-out party for some of the finest young athletes in recent memory. They dazzled us with their performances, their perseverance, and their poise under pressure. Here is our 2012 top 10 list of "Athletes Under 21."
1. Anthony Davis - Kentucky Wildcats/New Orleans Hornets - Center - 19 Years Old
Anthony Davis won the Naismith Player of the Year Award, NCAA National Championship, was selected first overall in the NBA Draft and won an Olympic Gold Medal. Woof. To give you an idea of how dominate he has become on the defensive end, Davis won Most Outstanding Player honors after the 2012 NCAA Tournament despite making just one basket in the final game. Here are some of his best blocks…fear the brow, indeed.
2. Missy Franklin - US Olympian - Swimmer - 17 Years Old
Missy "The Missile" Franklin took home five medals from London, four golds, and a bronze. She is the world record holder in the 200-meter backstroke. Every event she competed in during the 2012 Summer Games, she set either an American or a World record. To say she blew the competition out of the water would be an understatement.
3. Johnny Manziel - Texas A&M - Quarterback - 20 Years Old
In August, Manziel was trying to win the starting quarterback job in College Station. By December, he was hoisting a Heisman Memorial trophy. Manziel became the first freshman in history to win the Heisman and orchestrated the most memorable upset of the season, knocking off Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Johnny Football has taken the country by storm, with #2 jerseys flying off the shelves as well as Scooby Doo costumes.
4. Neymar - Santos FC - Forward - 20 Years Old
To say he's the next Brazilian superstar may be an understatement. Neymar's list of accomplishments is incredibly long, so en lieu of listing them all, here's two goals from the past two years. The first is the 2011 FIFA Puskás Award, given to the player who has scored the "most beautiful" goal of the year. The second is this goal, which is in the running for the 2012 FIFA Puskás Award.
5. Bryce Harper - Washington Nationals - Outfielder - 20 Years Old
Despite enormous pressure to elevate a long downtrodden franchise, Harper exceeded expectations during his record setting rookie season. Harper became the youngest position player to make an All-Star game and went on to win the National League's 2012 Rookie of the Year award. Was his finest moment when he became the youngest player since 1964 to steal home? That's a clown question, bro.
6. Gabby Douglas - US Olympian - Gymnast - 16 Years Old
Douglas became the first African American gymnast to take home the gold in the individual competition and the first American gymnast to to win the individual and team gold in the same Olympic games. You don't need to be an Olympic judge to realize something great was going on here.
7. Kyrie Irving - Cleveland Cavaliers - Point Guard - 20 Years Old
A nagging toe injury limited Irving during his days as a Duke Blue Devil, leading many to wonder if the Cleveland Cavaliers had made a mistake drafting him first overall in the 2011 NBA Draft. Irving has since put those fears to rest, capturing the 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year honors. His most memorable moment may have come just last week, dropping 41 against the Knicks, becoming the youngest player to score 40 points in Madison Square Garden history, take that MJ.
8. McKayla Maroney - US Olympian - Gymnast - 17 Years Old
The face that launched a thousand memes also helped the U.S. women's gymnastics team capture the team gold in London. She had to settle for silver in vault, but her near perfect vault was an Olympic highlight nonetheless.
9. Gabriel Landeskog - Colorado Avalanche - Left Wing - 20 Years Old
Arguably the finest amateur hockey player in Swedish history, Landeskog was drafted second overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Landeskog would go on to win the Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded to the Rookie of the Year, and became the youngest player to be named captain in NHL history on September 4th, 2012.
10. Claressa Shields - US Olympian - Boxer - 17 Years Old
Shields became the first American woman to win a boxing gold medal, defeating Nadezda Torlopova 19-12 at the Summer Olympics in London. Shields, a native of Flynt, Michigan, overpowered her Russian counterpart in the riveting gold medal match.