There were several American teenagers among the Team USA squad who competed in the London 2012 Olympic Games and in the London 2012 Paralympic Games who achieved success greater than their years.
And that was just in the summer sports.
Here is what 12 teenagers achieved in London and elsewhere around the world. Some of them came home with gold medals. But that did not get them out of doing their homework.
Just 15, Ledecky was the youngest athlete of the 532-member Team USA contingent to compete in London this summer and she came up as one of the biggest winners. Ledecky not only shocked the swimming world at the U.S. Olympic Trials by beating 2008 Olympian Kate Ziegler in the 800-meter freestyle to qualify for the Games, but also she left the rest of the world in her wake in London by capturing the gold medal in the event. Her time of 8:14.63 broke an American record set by Janet Evans (8:16.22) back in 1989. Ledecky is now back home in Bethesda, Md., where she is a high school sophomore and a member of her school’s swim team.
At 17, Franklin came home from London with four Olympic gold medals as well as a bronze. She is the current world record holder in the 200 backstroke. And like Ledecky, Franklin also is rejoining her high school swimming team. Franklin announced in October that she will reunite with 2012 U.S. Olympic women’s swimming coach Teri McKeever next year as a freshman on the swim team at University of California, Berkeley.
In 2011, at age 15, he became the youngest American to win the USA Luge Start Championship. In 2012, he did it again. Along with teammates Ty Andersen, Pat Edmunds and Summer Britcher, West was part of the Team USA relay to strike gold at the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck. West also tied with Olympian Chris Mazdzer to become the Fall 2012 Norton National Champion.
This 16-year-old made her Olympic debut in table tennis in London and showed plenty of promise for making return trips to the Games. Hsing won her first two matches and nearly upset the No. 2 seed (China’s Li Xiaoxia). Watching Hsing in the stands in London was a man she calls, “Uncle Bill”. To the rest of the world, that would be Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates. Another fan? Warren Buffett. When she returned to California, she discovered her high school started a table tennis club. Guess who was named president?
ARIELLE GOLD AND GRACIE GOLD
Team USA’s Winter Golden Girls are hoping their quick ascent in their respective sports -- Arielle, 16, in snowboarding and Gracie, 17, in figure skating -- will continue through to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Arielle Gold claimed two silvers in the Winter Youth Olympic Games in snowboard slopestyle and halfpipe. She then won gold in halfpipe at FIS Junior World Championships in Sierra Nevada, Spain. She scored two top-10 finishes in two World Cup starts. Gracie Gold, meanwhile, claimed the 2012 U.S. junior figure skating title and the silver medal at the World Junior Championships. She finished second in her second senior-level Grand Prix event, the Rostelecom Cup, which, appropriately, was held in Russia.
In the first Olympic Games where women’s boxing was part of the competitive program, a 17-year-old from Flint, Mich., made history as the first (and only) American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in the sport. Shields beat Russia's Nadezda Torlopova, 19-12, and in the process, brought attention to gender equality in the Games.
She became the biggest winner of the women’s gymnastics competition in London, claiming not only the all-around title but also she was part of the “Fierce Five” that captured the team crown. And she will not turn 17 until Dec. 31. For all of those teens trying to write personal essays for college applications, Douglas has even beaten you to the punch on that. Her autobiography, “Grace, Gold & Glory: My Leap of Faith,” was released Dec. 4.
Another member of the “Fierce Five,” this 18-year-old will be remembered not only for her role in helping Team USA to gold in the team competition, but also for becoming the first American woman to earn a gold medal in the floor event and earning bronze in the balance beam. She just missed out on another medal after losing a tie-breaker and placing fourth in the all-around. She got some revenge in the balance beam when she again was part of a tie-breaker. After her routine was reviewed (courtesy of a boisterous Bela Karolyi who demanded one), her score was upgraded and she was rewarded with the bronze.
One of the biggest stars in the London 2012 Paralympic Games was 18-year-old wheelchair racer Raymond Martin. He won gold medals in all four events he entered in the T52 classification: the 100, 200, 400 and 800-meter track and field races. The U.S. Olympic Committee had named him Paralympic SportsMan of the Year. Part of his post-Paralympic goals this year? Make it through his freshman year in college.
At 18, Kessler became the youngest Olympic show jumper when she competed in the equestrian event in London. Although she did not ride her mount, Cylana, to an Olympic medal, she brought attention to a sport that usually features older athletes. In fact, her teammates in the team show jumping event in London were: Beezie Madden (age 48), Rich Fellers (52) and McLain Ward (36). Now Kessler is back in the saddle and preparing for possibly many more trips to the Games.
At 19, Leek entered the London Games ranked first among women archers in the United States and sixth in the world. She was disappointed that she did not get past the second round in her Olympic debut, but she doesn’t plan on retiring any time soon. Leek’s year was also highlighted by team gold and individual silver at the World Archery Indoor Championships, as well as team bronze at a World Cup in Ogden, Utah, and an individual fourth-place finish at the World Cup in Shanghai, China.