Emma Raducanu’s remarkable victory in the US Open was, among other things, a victory for the fearlessness of youth. The Guardian has picked out six teenagers, including Raducanu, who despite their tender years have already had a huge impact.
By now everyone knows the story of how Raducanu, aged just 18, became the first qualifier to win one of the four tennis grand slams. Just three months ago she was waiting for her A-level results. She is now tipped to be Britain’s first billion-dollar sport star after winning 10 straight matches without dropping a set, becoming the first British woman to win a grand slam since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977. It was just her second grand slam main draw appearance and no woman in the Open era had ever won in so few attempts. She is the youngest grand slam champion since Maria Sharapova in 2004 and remarkably, Raducanu has yet to win a match at a Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour event – the circuit that is the bread and butter of elite players but does not include the four slams.
At just 15, Thunberg began a solo school strike in Sweden in 2018 to draw attention to the climate crisis. It snowballed into a global youth movement. The following year she gave an impassioned speech at the UN climate summit and was crowned Time magazine’s person of the year. “She has addressed heads of state at the UN, met the pope, sparred with the president of the US and inspired 4 million people to join the global climate strike on 20 September 2019: the largest climate demonstration in human history,” Time said. Still just 18, she is continuing to push world leaders to do more to address the climate crisis. After a pause in public demonstrations during the coronavirus pandemic a global climate strike is planned for 24 September.
Gitanjali, a scientist and inventor, was last year named as Time magazine’s first “kid of the year”. Rao, 15, from Denver, Colorado, has invented technologies across a range of fields, including a device that can identify lead in drinking water, and an app and Chrome extension that use artificial intelligence to detect cyberbullying. In an interview with the actor and humanitarian Angelina Jolie, Gitanjali said: “I don’t look like your typical scientist. Everything I see on TV is that it’s an older, usually white, man as a scientist. My goal has really shifted; not only from creating my own devices to solve the world’s problems but inspiring others to do the same as well. Because from personal experience it’s not easy when you don’t see anyone else like you.”
At 19, Eilish is already one of the world’s most successful pop stars, with seven Grammys under her belt. Her first album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, released in 2019, went multiplatinum and last year the US singer-songwriter became the youngest artist in history to write and record a theme for the James Bond franchise. Her second studio album, Happier than Ever, was released this year and is in the top 10 selling albums of the year in the US, with more than 180,000 copies sold. Eilish inspires devotion among her fanbase – she has more than 90 million followers on Instagram – and has used her platform to speak out about her struggles with depression and unrealistic expectations relating to body image.
Maloum was the joint winner with Thunberg of the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2019 at the age of 14. The teenager from Cameroon set up an organisation called Children for Peace that tours schools, mosques and marketplaces in her homeland speaking to children who could fall prey to extremist groups such as Boko Haram. She draws pictures, including of a child refusing to wear a suicide-bomb vest, as a way of cutting through linguistic barriers to bring across her message. She said that she would use her half of the EUR100,000 (GBP85,000) fund linked to the award to help fund her group’s next project: a pan-African children’s parliament.
Nishiya, from Japan, is the third-youngest champion in summer Olympics history. She was 13 years and 330 days old when she won the inaugural women’s street skateboarding competition at the Tokyo Olympics in July. Nishya topped the youngest ever Olympic podium, holding off the challenge of two other teenagers, 13 and 16, who took the silver and bronze respectively. She previously won silver in the 2019 summer X games when she was just 11, as well as the 2021 street skateboarding world championships. Nishiya was ranked fifth in the world prior to the Olympics, with the eventual silver medallist, Rayssa Leal from Brazil, ranked second.