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The sport breakthroughs of the year up for Laureus Award Nomination

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November 16, 2012
A group of brilliant young teenagers from the London Olympic Games are among the leading contenders for Nomination for the 2013 Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year Award.
Gymnast Gabby Douglas, 400 metres runner Kirani James and swimmers Katie Ledecky, Ruta Meilutyte and Ye Shiwen all won gold medals in London and showed potential for amazing futures.
Also in the mix for Nomination could be Britain’s Andy Murray, aged 25, who won the Olympic singles tennis gold medal and mixed doubles silver and also his first ever Grand Slam at the US Open. And New Zealand’s phenomenal Lydia Ko, the youngest ever winner of a professional golf event at the age of 14 years 280 days.
The Laureus World Sports Awards is recognised as the premier honours event in the international sporting calendar and the Awards Ceremony provides a high profile focus as stars of the sporting world come together to salute the finest sportsmen and sportswomen of the year. The winners will be unveiled during a globally televised Awards Ceremony in Rio de Janeiro.
Proceeds from the Laureus World Sports Awards directly benefit and underpin the work of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, which supports more than 100 community sports projects around the world that have helped to improve the lives of over one-and-a-half million young people.
Andy Murray made his own personal breakthrough in 2012, winning the US Open, his first ever Grand Slam event, and also a gold and silver medal at the London Olympic Games. His US Open victory, beating Novak Djokovic in a five-set final, made him the first British player since Fred Perry in 1936 to win a Grand Slam tennis event. In the Olympic men’s final he had a straight sets win over Roger Federer and also won a silver medal with Laura Robson in the mixed doubles.
American Gabby Douglas, 16, became the first woman to win individual and team all-around gold medals – competing on four pieces of equipment - at the same Olympics. Before the Olympics she was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Time and after she won her gold medals a giant mural depicting her achievement was painted in her home town of Virginia Beach.
At 19, Kirani James won the Olympic 400 metres gold medal in a time of 43.94 secs to earn the Caribbean island of Grenada its first ever Olympic medal. Thousands lined the streets when he returned to Grenada and President Tillman Thomas said a commemorative stamp would be created in his honour, a new stadium named after him and he would be appointed a tourism ambassador.
Katie Ledecky, aged 15, won the Olympic 800 metres freestyle gold medal in her first major championships, beating favourite Lotte Friis and defending champion Rebecca Adlington. She won by four seconds in 8 mins 14.63 secs - the second fastest in history. Ledecky was the youngest Olympian on the 529-strong American team and is now second youngest swimming gold medalist in US history.
At just 15, Ruta Meilutyte won the 100 metres Olympic breaststroke gold medal, beating celebrated American swimmer Rebecca Soni. It made her the first Lithuanian swimmer since independence from the Soviet Union in 1990 to win an Olympic swimming medal. She is also the youngest Lithuanian athlete to win an Olympic gold medal. She led from start to finish, beating Soni by 0.08 secs.
Ye Shiwen, aged 16, was one of the sensations of the Olympic Games, winning both 200 metres and 400 metres individual medley gold medals. In the third heat of the 400 metres, she swam 4 mins 31.73 secs, an improvement of two seconds over her previous best time at the 2010 Asian Games, then in the final she broke the world record, held by Stephanie Rice since the 2008 Olympics, with a time of 4:28.43, an improvement of a further three seconds.
Two Brazilian athletes made significant breakthroughs at the London Olympics. Sarah Menezes, 22, became the first Brazilian woman to win an individual judo gold at an Olympic Games with victory in the under-48kg final. The second-seeded Menezes dethroned reigning Olympic champion Alina Dumitru of Romania, producing the winning throw in the final minute. And Arthur Zanetti’s flawless routine in the men’s rings to win Brazil’s first ever gymnastic Olympic gold medal was celebrated in Brazil as if he had scored a winning goal in the World Cup. Going last, he beat favourite Chen Yibing, captain of the Chinese men’s team into the silver medal position.
There were many other noteworthy Olympic Games performances. France’s Yannick Agnel, aged 20, in his first ever Olympic Games, won three medals - two gold and a silver. He produced one of the outstanding swims of the London Games to win the 200 metres freestyle gold, 1.79 secs ahead at the finish. He also won gold in the 4 x 100m freestyle relay and silver in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay.
British rower Katherine Grainger at last won a double sculls gold medal in London at the fourth attempt, after taking silver medals at the three previous Olympiads – Sydney, Athens and Beijing. She finally won the gold medal she had dreamed about, at the age of 36, with partner Anna Watkins. It left Grainger and Watkins unbeaten in 23 races. Another Briton, Laura Trott, aged 20, one of the youngest members of the highly successful British cycling team, won two gold medals, in the omnium and team pursuit. She is now reigning double European, world and Olympic champion in both events.
And no one can forget the efforts of Niger’s Hamadou Djibo Issaka, called ‘Issaka the Otter’ by the enthusiastic spectators at the rowing course in London who cheered him on, despite him finishing his two Olympic single sculls races more than a minute behind his competitors. Because of his positive and determined approach, he became one of the unsung heroes of the Olympic Games. A few months before the start of the Games, Issaka, aged 35, was a gardener and swimming pool attendant in his country's capital Niamey, then he took up rowing and trained in an old fishing boat. He now plans to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Golf provided two of the outstanding individual performances away from the Olympic Games in 2012. New Zealand’s Lydia Ko became the youngest ever winner of a professional golf event in January when she won the New South Wales Open at the age of 14 years 280 days, breaking the record of Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa, who was 15 years 8 months when he won his first tournament. In August, she became the youngest winner of an LPGA Tour event at the CN Canadian Women’s Open at 15 years 4 months.
China’s Feng Shanshan won the LPGA Championship in June, at the age of 22, to become the first golfer from the mainland of China to win a Major Championship. She was also the first woman player from the Chinese mainland on the LPGA Tour, which she joined in 2008. Feng was born in Guangzhou and started playing golf at the age of ten.
Laureus World Sports Academy Member and swimming legend Mark Spitz, who famously won seven gold medals in one Olympiad in Munich in 1972, said: “The London Olympic Games really came alive in the pool with so many great performances and so many great new faces. I don’t recall so many young swimmers making such an impact before. Katie Ledecky, Ruta Meilutyte and Ye Shiwen were the best of the bunch, but I think they will have a fight on their hands in what looks an extremely competitive category. It will be fascinating to see which six names the world’s media vote for as Nominees.”