When success becomes new kids' business

Young talents are dominating the scene, leaving veterans behind: maturity is no longer the pattern for victory. And this might cut champions' careers much shorter

Jannik Sinner and his red mane impressed the world. The young Italian was closer than the score suggests to making the miracle at Roland Garros, and even Rafa Nadal, admitted that Italy has found a new champion, after sweating to see him off. A view shared by other greats such as Becker and McEnroe. 

All of this happened a few days after 21-year-old Slovenian Tadej Pogacar dared to win the Tour de France with a "coup de theatre" in the final time trial, in which he turned everything upside down with the naiveness a genius, following up to Egan Bernal, who had done the same at 22.

Very young talents, ambitious and reckless, took the scene with disarming speed, proving to have no fear of the established champions. This is now clear on the big scale, in many disciplines, both individual and teams: it once happened only in swimming and gymnastics, now it is no longer the case. In the face of parents complaining about children who never grow up, it seems that sports inspiration does miracles: when they see the chance of glory on the horizon, talented boys and girls devote their lives in the name of a goal that, if realized, brings success, fame, wealth. And more and more often, they don't have to wait long.

The phenomenon is not unprecedented, even in recent years. Marc Marquez in the motorbikes, Max Verstappen in the F.1, Mikaela Shiffrin in the white circus stepped up before twenty, but today this seems to have become the rule. Just look at the example of football stars as young as Kylian Mbappè, Ansu Fati or Matthijs De Ligt. The same can be said for Paola Egonu and Simone Giannelli in volleyball, or Filippo Tortu in athletics. Charles Leclerc should also be mentioned, having earned the leader's seat at Ferrari so early in age, but he's arguably not having much fun at the moment. Also, Filippo Ganna is now beginning to sparkle on the road after winning several World titles on track. 

In the world of "normal" people, working life is lengthening (for those who have a job, which is not to be taken for granted nowadays), and retirement seems more and more of a far chimera. In professional sports, curiously, the trend is exactly the opposite. The nouvelle vague will enjoy a shorter career at the highest level while relegating established champions to marginal figures much sooner. Think about the sudden "eclipse" of top names in cycling, such as Peter Sagan (30 years old) or Elia Viviani (31). It may become an established trend: 30 years old was once regarded as the threshold for the full physical and psychological maturity. Now it is better to win early, as soon as possible, because the wind can change direction very quickly. Success in sports is becoming more and more new kids' business.

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