TWO exciting sporting newcomers – Spain’s flamboyant racer Marc Márquez, the youngest World MotoGP Champion in history at just 20 years 266 days, and Tour de France rookie Nairo Quintana from Colombia – are among the favourites for Nomination for the 2014 Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year Award.
Marc Márquez was also the first rider to win the world title in his rookie season since Kenny Roberts in 1978 and the youngest ever winner of a Grand Prix, in Austin in April, when he was 20 years 63 days. He is the youngest rider in the 65-year history of the World Championship to have won in three different classes – 125cc, Moto2 and MotoGP.
At 23, Nairo Quintana made a dramatic impact at the 2013 Tour de France, finishing second overall and winning the King of the Mountains title and the Young Riders Jersey. Quintana’s performance was the best by a Latin American rider and he was the first Tour rookie to finish on the podium since 1996.
Despite their remarkable performances, Márquez and Quintana will still have strong competition from many of sport’s greatest young talents, including prodigious teenagers like golfers Lydia Ko from New Zealand and China’s Guan Tianlang and gymnasts Simone Biles and Yana Kudryavtseva.
Among the other strong contenders are Damian Lillard, 23, who made an explosive breakthrough into the NBA with Portland Trail Blazers, winning the 2012/13 Rookie of the Year award, joining Oscar Robertson and Allen Iverson in scoring 1,500 points and 500 assists in a rookie season.
There is a particularly strong challenge from golf. Remarkable 16-year-old Lydia Ko, playing as an amateur, had two victories in professional tournaments in 2013 – the New Zealand Open and the Canadian Open, the second time she has won this event. In October, standing fifth in the world rankings, she turned professional and was granted a waiver to play on the LPGA Tour.
One very emotional breakthrough in 2013 was provided by the Afghanistan Cricket Team. In a country devastated by war, cricket has emerged as a source of national pride in Afghanistan. It was in refugee camps in Pakistan where the Afghans learned the game and in 2013, led by coach Kabir Khan and captain Mohammad Nabi, they beat Kenya to reach their first Cricket World Cup. They played in the last two World Twenty20s, but to qualify for a World Cup is remarkable progress for a country which has few turf pitches and five years ago was playing in World League Division Five.
The eventual winners will then be chosen in a secret ballot by the ultimate sports jury, the 46 members of the Laureus World Sports Academy – the living legends of sport honouring the greatest athletes of today – and unveiled at the Laureus World Sports Awards Ceremony, to be staged in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, March 26.