Year in Review: Breakthrough athlete

In the year 2016 we’ve watched some unforgettable moments play-out, while we have also seen some new stars born into the sporting world.

FOX Sports Asia takes a look at five people in sports who had a great 2016, but who are also set to thrill us for years to come.

Max Verstappen

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He’s been dubbed the new Michael Schumacher/Ayrton Senna for his ruthless and risk-taking approach but there can be no arguing that Max Verstappen is almost certain to be a star of Formula 1 for the next decade at least.

Having made a strong debut with Toro Rosso in 2015, the Dutchman was then promoted to big brother Red Bull early in the 2016 season – with Daniil Kvyat moving in the opposite direction.

That might have been a daunting move for some but Verstappen’s response was to become the youngest driver ever to win an F1 Grand Prix at the age of 18 years and 228 days on his Red Bull debut in Spain. Truly remarkable stuff.

He has consistently demonstrated aggression and an unwillingness to give an inch, which earned him the rebuke of several of the sport’s more established stars this year, but he refuses to change his ways and you can’t help but admire that in someone so young in such a high-pressure sporting environment.

A message to Max: Carry on as you are and you’re sure to give F1 fans the world over plenty to talk about in the coming years.

Joseph Schooling

The man that claimed Singapore’s first ever Olympic gold medal, there can be no greater reason as to why Joseph Schooling is shortlisted for our Breakthrough Athlete of the Year.

Schooling stunned the world when he struck gold at the Rio Olympics, claiming the 100m butterfly in a national, Asian, and Olympic record time of 50.39 seconds and thrashing the great Michael Phelps, his idol, in the process.

It was seemingly written in the stars that the 21-year-old would make history for his country, after all his grand-uncle, Lloyd Valberg, was Singapore’s first Olympian at the 1948 London Games!

Having featured at the London Games in 2012, Schooling’s path to Olympic glory saw him win silver medals at the 2014 Commonwealth and Asian Games before he took bronze at the 2015 World Championships.

Hard work and a sheer will to win, from a very young age, have been key attributes in Schooling’s rise to stardom and there can be no doubt that this is just the beginning of what could be a magical time for him and Singapore sport in general.

Angela Lee

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What a stunning year it’s been for Angela Lee, who became the youngest ever person to win an MMA world title when, as a 19-year-old, she defeated Mei Yamaguchi to claim the ONE Women’s Atomweight crown in May.

Lee is a Canadian-American of Asian descent, with her father from Singapore and her mother from South Korea, while she has a brother, Christian Lee, who is also an MMA fighter. You could say it’s a fighting family as both her parents are martial artists too!

The 20-year-old submitted her first five opponents to earn a shot at the inaugural ONE Title, and she didn’t disappoint as Yamaguchi was beaten by a unanimous decision in a battle that was dubbed ‘Fight of the Year’ by some observers.

Fight Matrix currently ranks Lee as the No 22 female MMA Strawweight (115 lbs) in the world, and she looks certain to go on to bigger and better things in 2017. Watch this space!

Jamie Vardy

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The Jamie Vardy story is so good that Hollywood should make a film about it – oh wait they are!

From playing for non-league minnows Stocksbridge Park Steels to representing England in the space of just five years, the 29-year-old has made a remarkable rise through the professional ranks of English football.

Vardy was prolific at Halifax and Fleetwood before the Foxes decided to take a £1million gamble on the striker who was released by Sheffield Wednesday as a 16-year-old.

The pacy frontman scored 16 goals as Leicester won promotion to the Premier League in 2014 and in his first season in England’s top flight he showed glimpses of what was to come.

It was in the 2015-16 campaign that Vardy exploded into football folklore as he scored in 11 successive Premier League games, breaking the previous record of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, as the Foxes eventually went on to seal an impossible dream of winning England’s top division.

Vardy finished the season with 24 Premier League goals, international recognition with England, and a proposed big-money move to Arsenal in the pipeline.

Thankfully for Leicester fans he decided to stay at the King Power Stadium, penning a new four-year contract. And although the current season has not gone too well for him and the club, Vardy exploded back to his best recently with a brilliant hat-trick against Manchester City.

Ariya Jutanugarn

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Ariya Jutanugarn became the first male or female golfer from Thailand to win a major championship when she claimed victory at the British Open in 2016.

The 21-year-old, who turned pro in 2012, was seemingly destined for greatness after she became the youngest player ever to qualify for an LPGA Tour event at the incredible age of just 11 at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

This year’s Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic was Jutanugarn’s first victory on the LPGA Tour and she followed that up by winning the next two tournaments – becoming the first player in LPGA history to win her first three titles in consecutive fashion.

Jutanugarn’s fearless playing style has certainly made her popular with the fans and don’t bet against the Bangkok native claiming her second, or even third, major title in 2017.

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