World Children's Day: Seven of the youngest Olympians to star at the Games

Sky Brown of Great Britain trains during practice for Women's Skate Park at the X Games Minneapolis 2019 (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sky Brown of Great Britain trains during practice for Women's Skate Park at the X Games Minneapolis 2019 (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Today  - 20 November - is World Children's Day, an annual event to "promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children's welfare". To mark the occasion, Tokyo 2020 are taking a look back at seven of the youngest ever Olympians, plus two kids who will be hoping to take centre stage at next year's Games. 

Gaurika Singh, 13 (Nepal, swimming)

Gaurika Singh of Nepal competes in the Women's 100m Backstroke at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Gaurika Singh of Nepal competes in the Women's 100m Backstroke at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
2016 Getty Images

What an amazing experience.

I can't believe it's happening.

Nepal's swimming sensation Gaurika Singh was the youngest athlete to compete in the last Olympic Games in Rio. At only 13 years and 255 days old, Singh won her heat in the 100m backstroke event before missing out on the semi-finals. Still, the joy the teenage athlete felt was undimmed after the race, as she proclaimed: "What an amazing experience. I can't believe it's happening."

Singh will be hoping to improve on her Rio performances at next year's Games in Tokyo, and her preparations are already well underway after she was named as one of eleven athletes to take part in Nepal's Olympic Scholarship Programme.

Dimitrios Loundras, 10 (Greece, gymnastics)

The youngest confirmed Olympian in history was Dimitrios Loundras, a Greek gymnast who competed in the team parallel bars event at the very first modern Olympic Games, Athens 1896. Loundras was only 10 years and 218 days old when he participated in the Games, winning a bronze medal as part of the Ethnikos Gymnastikos Syllogos team.

But being the youngest ever athlete to take part in an Olympics wasn't his only claim to fame. Loundras, who died in 1970, was also the last surviving participant of the Athens 1896 Olympic Games.

Marjorie Gestring, 13 (USA, diving)

Thirteen-year-old Marjorie Gestring, the youngest ever Olympic gold medal winner with Katy Rawls, the winner of the silver medal, at the Olympic Swimming Stadium in Berlin (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
Thirteen-year-old Marjorie Gestring, the youngest ever Olympic gold medal winner with Katy Rawls, the winner of the silver medal, at the Olympic Swimming Stadium in Berlin (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

The happiest person in the world.

When the USA's Marjorie Gestring won gold in the springboard diving event at the Berlin 1936 Games, she became the youngest-ever female Olympic champion at 13 years and 268 days old. Unfortunately for Gestring, the Berlin Olympics would prove to be her first and last, as the 1940 and 1944 Games were cancelled due to World War II.

Still her moment of glory would be one she would cherish forever. In a radio interview reported in the New York Times after her victory, Gestring described herself as "the happiest person in the world".

Nadia Comaneci, 14 (Romania, gymnastics)

Comaneci makes perfect 10
01:05

Everything that's happening today with me, and my life,

it's because of that moment that happened in Montreal

When Nadia Comaneci arrived at the Olympic Games Montreal 1976, she was already a gymnastics sensation. At the 1975 European Championships, Comaneci won four gold medals and one silver. But what happened at the 1976 Olympics was beyond anyone's expectations. Over a spectacular Games, Comaneci became the first ever gymnast to achieve a perfect 10 - a feat she repeated a further five times before the Olympics were over.

Comaneci went on to win three gold medals, all at the young age of 14.

Looking back on the event 41 years later, Comaneci had this to say in an interview with CBS Sport: "Everything that's happening today with me, and my life, it's because of that moment that happened in Montreal..."

"Nobody told me that a perfect 10 was never scored in Olympic history, so I just did whatever I planned to do and whatever I trained to do."

KITAMURE Kusuo, 14 (Japan, swimming)

KITAMURA Kusuo (right) stands alongside MAKINO Shozo after winning gold in the men's 1,500m freestyle swimming at the Los Angeles 1932 Olympic Games.
KITAMURA Kusuo (right) stands alongside MAKINO Shozo after winning gold in the men's 1,500m freestyle swimming at the Los Angeles 1932 Olympic Games.
© 1932 / International Olympic Committee (IOC) / United Archives - All rights reserved.

The youngest ever Japanese competitor on the list is KITAMURA Kusuo, a swimmer from the Kochi Prefecture who won gold in the men's 1,500m freestyle at the Los Angeles 1932 Games. At 14 years and 309 days, Kitamura became the youngest ever swimmer to take the top spot on an Olympic podium - a record that remained intact until the Seoul 1988 Olympics when Krisztina Egerszegi won 200m backstroke gold.

Even so, the Japanese athlete, who died in 1996, still holds the distinction of being the youngest ever male swimmer to win a gold medal.

Noël Vandernotte 12 (France, rowing) and the mystery Dutch coxswain

The team from Italy in the foreground during the Berlin 1936 rowing men's eight race
The team from Italy in the foreground during the Berlin 1936 rowing men's eight race
© 1936 / International Olympic Committee (IOC)

We went to the Olympics to win.

We knew we would go super fast.

In June of this year, the world of sport lost one of its youngest Olympians when France's Noël Vandernotte passed away at age 96. The coxswain, who competed in the Berlin 1936 Games rowing competition at 12 years, 7 months and 20 days, remains the youngest ever athlete to represent France at an Olympics.

In blustery weather conditions, the 42kg French rower made history in Germany, winning two bronze medals on the same day in the coxed fours and coxed pairs events. But the results weren't a surprise for the young athlete.

"We went to the Olympics to win. We had built a special boat for it. It fitted us perfectly. We knew we would go super fast."

And when someone suggested that he share his medals, Vandernotte was adamant that he would do no such thing: “The person who brought us the medals wanted to keep one. 'Nono, share your medals', suggested one of my uncles. ‘You don’t need both!’ he said. But I had earned them and kept them both!”

But in fact, Vandernotte may not even be the youngest rower on the list. One of the great mysteries of the Olympic Games is the unknown coxswain who can be seen in a photograph from the Paris 1900 Games. While his name and age remain unknown, people have speculated that the young boy - who was brought in as a last-minute replacement for the Dutch team's regular coxswain - may have been as young as seven.

That would make the mysterious child the youngest ever Olympian by a full three years. But as things stand, nobody has been able to reveal the identity of the rower.

And here are two youngsters who will be hoping to light up the competition at Tokyo 2020:

Hend Zaza, 11 (Syria, table tennis)

ITTF.com

It's a gift to my country Syria.

Next year's Olympics will also have its fair share of young stars. One who is certain to be there is Syria's table tennis sensation Hend Zaza, who at 11-years-old will be the youngest ever representative of her sport at the Olympics. In March this year, Zaza won four out of five matches at the Western Asia Olympic Qualification Tournament to secure her spot in Tokyo.

And when the Syrian prodigy steps out in Tokyo next year, she is determined to share the experience with those that mean the most to her.

"It's a gift to my country Syria, my parents and all my friends," said the young athlete after her qualification was confirmed.

Sky Brown, 12 (Great Britain, skateboarding)

I’m going for gold in 2021 and nothing will stop me.

One starlet who will be hoping to book her ticket to Tokyo is Great Britain's skateboarder Sky Brown. The 12-year-old - whose father is British and mother is Japanese - is one of five Britons battling for a place in the inaugural skateboarding event at next year's Olympics.

The self-taught prodigy recently returned from a serious injury sustained while skateboarding, but she'll be hoping to put that behind her to stake her place on Team GB in time for the Olympics.

Earlier this year after recovering from her horror fall, Brown had this to say about her prospects for the Tokyo Olympics:

"I am going for gold in Tokyo 2021. I’m going to push boundaries for girls with my skating and surfing. I’m going for gold in 2021 and nothing will stop me."