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Sports >  Pro

Stars in the making: These athletes are primed for breakouts in 2021

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 31, 2020

Sky Brown, then 11 years old, celebrates after maxing out her time on her first run during the women’s skateboard park qualifier round at the X Games in Minneapolis in August 2019.  (Associated Press)
Sky Brown, then 11 years old, celebrates after maxing out her time on her first run during the women’s skateboard park qualifier round at the X Games in Minneapolis in August 2019. (Associated Press)
By Pat Graham Associated Press

For some, the sky’s the limit, which also just happens to be the title of the book written by 12-year-old British skateboarder Sky Brown.

For others, it’s no stretch that big things appear ahead. Exhibit A: 7-foot-2 Denver Nuggets center Bol Bol and his roughly 7-8 wingspan.

So many potential stars in the making. So many stages for them to shine. One of the biggest will be this summer during the Tokyo Games, which were postponed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By the time 2021 ends, a new crop of names will start to become even more familiar. So let’s name-drop a few (sorry, Trevor Lawrence, you’re already too big of a name for this list):

Brown, a skateboarding prodigy who has her sights locked on the Tokyo Games. She turns 13 a few weeks before the opening ceremony as her sport makes its Olympic debut (along with sport climbing, karate and surfing). Brown already has a doll made in her image and sponsors including Nike. In June, she posted a video on Instagram (770,000-plus followers) of a frightful crash during

  • a training session.
  • Bol, forward/center, Denver Nuggets. The son of the late
Manute Bol

, Bol Bol showed glimpses of his

versatility inside the

NBA bubble over the summer. He remains eligible for the rookie of the year award, with the favorites being Charlotte’s

LaMelo Ball

(No. 3 pick overall)

New York’s Obi Toppin

(No. 8) and

Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards
  • (No. 1).
  • Iga Swiatek, tennis, Poland. The
19-year-old who

listens to Guns N’ Roses before matches captured Poland’s first Grand Slam singles title when she won the French Open in October. Swiatek had never won a tour-level title until

Roland Garros
  • .
  • Stephanie Gilmore, surfer, Australia. Nicknamed “Happy Gilmore,” the
seven-time world champion

is well known on the surfing circuit. Gilmore, who turns 33 on Jan. 29, will

be among the medal favorites
  • in Tokyo.
  • Ke’Bryan Hayes, third baseman, Pittsburgh Pirates. A first-round pick in 2015, Hayes made his major league debut on Sept. 1 and
showed his promise

with a double and solo homer. The National League rookie-of-the-year candidate is the son of longtime major leaguer Charlie Hayes. In the American League, there’s Tampa Bay’s

Randy Arozarena
  • , who remains eligible for rookie of the year. He earned the Babe Ruth award for the postseason’s Most Valuable Player after helping the Rays to the World Series.
  • Catarina Macario, midfield, U.S. National Soccer Team. The
Brazilian-born Macario

became a U.S. citizen this fall. That

news coincided

with a call to the training camp for the U.S. Women’s National Team. Although the

Stanford standout
  • still needs to iron out her paperwork with FIFA to be eligible for Tokyo, there’s optimism she could join the U.S. at the Olympics.
  • JoJo Earle,
wide receiver, Alabama

. The speedy wideout originally committed to LSU before joining an Alabama program that’s well known for producing wideouts. This season it’s Heisman hopeful DeVonta Smith, who was just named

The Associated Press college football player of the year
  • .
  • Alexis Lafrenière, forward,
New York Rangers

. He was the top pick in the NHL draft after a

stellar stint
  • in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Lafrenière was leading the league with 112 points (35 goals, 77 assists) in 52 games last season when play ended.
  • Kliment Kolesnikov, swimmer,
Russian Federation

. The backstroker extraordinaire counts

Michael Phelps among his idols.

Kolesnikov certainly has a knack for winning like Phelps,

capturing six gold

medals at the

2018 Youth Olympic Games
  • .
  • Keyshawn Davis, boxer, U.S. The top professional prospect on the 2020 U.S. Olympic team decided to wait so he could fight for a medal in ’21. The athletic, speedy lightweight from Norfolk, Virginia, hopes to follow the career path of friend Shakur Stevenson, who won a pro title just three years after earning a silver medal in the Rio Games.
  • Yealimi Noh, golfer, U.S. She was set to attend UCLA before turning pro in January 2019, then finished tied for second at the Volunteers of America Classic in early December.
  • Raevyn Rogers, track and field, U.S. The former University of Oregon standout showed her 800-meter
speed down the

stretch to

earn silver at

the 2019 world championships in Doha, Qatar. She and fellow American Ajeé Wilson (third in Doha) could put on quite a show at the Tokyo Games. But

Halimah Nakaayi
  • of Uganda will have something to say about it as the world champion.
  • Akiyo Noguchi, sport climbing, Japan. Known for her technique and mobility,
Noguchi will be
  • in the medal hunt as the event makes its Olympic debut. A fan favorite for sure on home turf.

Essential Quality, racehorse. One of the early favorites at the 2021 Kentucky Derby. The American gray/roan-colored colt captured the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland.

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