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Top 10 sports newcomers of the year

(China Daily)
Updated: 2010-12-29 07:56
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Top 10 sports newcomers of the year

China Daily unveils its picks of 2010


Blake Griffin

Achievement: No 1 pick in 2009 NBA draft

Recovering from a busted knee and playing for the LA Clippers aside, power forward Griffin is a basketballing freak of nature. At 21, he is already the team leader of the sorry LA franchise and is just a highlight waiting to happen each night the Clippers take the floor.

Having missed all of his 'first' rookie year with a fractured knee, Griffin bounced back this year to score 20 points and pull down 14 rebounds in his 2010 debut with the team and last month recorded a Clipper rookie record of 44 points, along with 15 rebounds and seven assists, in a losing effort against the New York Knicks.

However, pure statistics don't do justice to his game as there probably has not been a better dunker in the game since Doctor J was throwing them down in Philadelphia way back in the '80s .

If only Blake could play on a good team


Aliya Mustafina

Achievement: World Championships all-around winner

The 16-year-old Russian surprised the gymnastics world by winning the women's all-around gold medal at the World Championships this year in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

At the worlds, she was the top qualifier for the all-around competition, and qualified to participate in all four of the event finals. She was the first gymnast to accomplish that feat since compatriot Svetlana Khorkina in 1997.

She also won gold with the Russian team. She contributed the most points to the side in the process. She also claimed three silver medals - on the vault, the uneven bars and in the floor exercise in Rotterdam.

Mustafina's five medals made her the most successful gymnast at the 2010 World Championships and the leading medal winner since Andreea Raducan of Romania and Khorkina at the 2001 World Championships.

Also at the World Championships, Mustafina performed two new skills. On the vault, a round off, half on, layout front full off and on the uneven bars, a 1.5 twisting double back tucked somersault.


Choi Na-yeon

Achievement: Leading player and money earner on LPGA Tour

The 23-year-old won her third LPGA Tour title in July at the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic at which she beat three other players on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff. She then reeled off two consecutive runner-up finishes at the US Women's Open and the Evian Masters, followed by a tie for third at the Ricoh Women's British Open and another runner-up finish at the Safeway Classic. Her consistent play in 2010 made her the LPGA Tour's leading player and money earner.

Choi came to notice at 17, in 2004, by winning the ADT CAPS Invitational on the LPGA of Korea Tour, where she beat future Hall-of-Famer Se Ri pak by four strokes. Choi turned professional shortly thereafter,

In her first three years on the LPGA Tour, Choi has earned nearly $4 million. She has collected three wins - the 2009 Samsung World Championship, 2009 Hana Bank - KOLON Championship and 2010 Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic, six runner-up finishes, and 23 other top-10 finishes. She has improved her numbers every year for the past three years in money earned, top-10 finishes and scoring average.


Rory McIlroy

Achievements: Member of victorious European Ryder Cup team in 2010, third at Open Championship and PGA Championship same year

When you are born in Hollywood you must have star written all over you, but when your hometown is Hollywood, Northern Ireland, it's a slightly different matter.

Still, that hasn't stopped 21-year-old McIlroy tearing up courses since he turned pro in 2007 and emerge as the best of a healthy crop of young golfers which is expected to put the Tiger Woods-led old guard to the test.

This youngster, who stands only 5 ft 9, has one of the sweetest swings in the game and backs up his tee-to-green game with some sublime putting.

Four consistent rounds is his major problem, but his talent can't be overlooked.

Third-place finishes at the Open Championship and the PGA Championship show he is on the brink of cracking through for a major victory don't bet against him at Augusta next year.

Track and field

David Rudisha

Achievements: Broke the 13-year-old world record in the men's 800m twice this year and won the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Male Athlete of the Year.

Rudisha first made his name at the 2009 World Athletics Championships at Berlin in August, reaching the 800 meters semifinals. One month later, the 22-year-old won the IAAF Grand Prix tour event in Rieti, Italy, posting a new African record of 1:42.01, beating the 25-year old record of 1:42.28 set by compatriot Sammy Koskei. That effort put him in fourth place on the all-time list. On July 10. Rudisha ran the 800m in 1:41.51 at the KBC Night of Athletics in Belgium. This new personal record placed him No 2 on the all-time list for the 800 m. And soon the Kenyan claimed the crown in the men's 800m community when he broke the world record at the IAAF World Challenge meet in Berlin on Aug 22, 2010, with a time of 1:41.09, 0.02 seconds faster than the previous mark, held by Kenyan-born Danish runner Wilson Kipketer (set in 1997). Rudisha claimed that it had been his "first real attempt" at breaking the record, and he was capable of improving the time. This was proven one week later when he set a new world record of 1:41.01 in Italy.


Sun Yang

Achievement: Asian Games 1,500m champion

The 19-year-old Chinese stunned the world by winning the 1,500m freestyle at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games with a new Asian record of 14:35.43. The time was only 0.87 seconds behind the world record of 14:34.56 set by Australian Grant Hackett in July 2001 and 10.41 seconds faster than the former Asian record of his teammate, Zhang Lin, the reigning men's 800m freestyle world champion.

The Hangzhou native also won gold in Guangzhou in the 4x200m freestyle relay and two silver medals - in the 200m and 400m freestyle - losing both events to South Korean Olympic champion Park Tae-hwan. Sun showed his potential by taking a bronze medal in the longest freestyle event at the Rome World Championships last year. He also made it into the final of the 1,500 race at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, at the age of 17.

The strapping Sun has set his sights on breaking Hackett's mark at the World Championships next year in Shanghai and gold in the event at the 2012 London Olympics.

"To break Hackett's world record is my goal, and I will never give up. I will keep working hard after the Asian Games, and I hope I can achieve good results at 2011 Shanghai worlds and 2012 London Olympic Games," said Sun.


Steve Smith

Achievement: Blond(ish) legspinner with an aggressive attitude. Ring any bells, England? In Australia's post-Shane Warne era, this 21-year-old from Sydney is emerging as the country's next great white-haired hope in the world of spin.

His Test record to date is unflattering, but the great Warne didn't shine immediately and eventually emerged as the, arguably, greatest twirler of all time.

Smith can tweak it and will only get better if the trigger-happy Australian selectors are willing to stick with him at the highest level. The kid can bat too, but he's no No 6 in a national lineup and should be dropped down to about eight and told to concentrate on his bowling. Recently reintroduced to the national squad, he's apparently already the vibes guy.

Legspin is the toughest cricket art to master but a semblance of patience from the Australian selectors with the boy from Sydney could go a long way to forging a new, powerful Aussie team. Then, "Bowled, Stevie" could become a new catchphrase.


Andy Schleck

Achievement: Finished second in the 2010 Tour de France

In the 2010 Tour de France, the 25-year-old was so close to victory, but had to settle for second place against Alberto Contador again (by 39 seconds). Schleck however won the Young Rider Classification for the third time in a row.

The Luxembourger, who rode with Team CSC from 2005 to July this year, is only the second man to ever win the white jersey for best young rider three times. The first was German Jan Ullrich, who won from 1996-98. He also won two mountain stages, and rode in the yellow jersey for six days.

Schleck was involved in a controversial incident during this year's race when his chain fell off during a mountain stage. His main rival for the Tour, Contador, did not stop and thereby took the lead from Schleck. Some sections of the media saw Contador's behavior as unsporting and felt he should have allowed Schleck to regain the lost time. Schleck lost 39 seconds on that stage in the mountains, the same number of seconds by which he eventually lost the Tour de France.


Andy Carroll

Achievement: Called up to England's national team

The 21-year-old striker's performances at Newcastle Untied earned him a call up to the England squad for the friendly against France on Nov 17. Carroll passed a late fitness test to start the match. England boss Fabio Capello has stated his desire to partner Carroll up front with Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney for Euro 2012 qualifiers.

The 1.91m-tall striker has scored 11 goals in the English Premier League this season and is currently the third top scorer in the league. Carroll finished last season as Newcastle's top scorer, with 19 goals in all competitions, 17 in the league.

Carroll has been compared to Newcastle legend Alan Shearer. He is referred to as a classic No 9 centerforward, owing to his strength, powerful shot and excellent heading ability. Former Newcastle United manager Kevin Keegan said: "He is probably in the top three headers of a ball I have ever seen in football".

Short track speed skating

Zhou Yang

Achievement: Won women's 1,500m gold at Winter Olympics

At her debut Winter Olympics, young Chinese skater Zhou Yang shocked the world by claiming gold in the women's 1,500m short-track speed skating final at the Vancouver Games, breaking the domination of South Korea.

Although being the world record holder over the distance, Zhou, 19, was not considered the favorite before the event, which also featured her teammate, Wang Meng, who claimed the 500m gold at the Vancouver Games, and three highly-ranked South Koreans.

However, Wang was surprisingly disqualified in the semis after bumping Katherine Reutter when the American overtook her for second around the final turn on the next-to-last lap.

Zhou's performance in the final will appear in the record books not only because she set an Olympic mark, but also because she started to sprint when there were still three laps to go, which is considered an early and risky move in the long-distance race.

She also helped the Chinese women's team win its first-ever Winter Olympic relay gold.