Teenage darts sensation Luke Littler joins pantheon of sporting prodigies

CNNDespite falling just short of winning a historic world title, teenage darts sensation Luke Littler has seen his life change forever.

The 16-year-old, largely unknown before this year’s World Darts Championship, has been catapulted into global stardom after showcasing his amazing ability on a fairytale run to Wednesday’s final.

Despite ultimately being beaten by world No. 1 Luke Humphries, Littler showcased an ability and maturity way beyond his years.

His breakthrough was reminiscent of a number of other teenage talents who burst onto the world stage in their respective sports. CNN Sport takes a look at just a few.


The world’s most popular sport is played by millions around the world, making it easily accessible to young talent.

A number of teenagers have excelled at an early age, but Littler’s achievements have drawn comparisons with one particular English phenom’s arrival on the global stage.

Wayne Rooney was also just 16 when he made his senior debut for Everton and, like Littler, looked wise beyond his years.

Later that same season, still just 16, the English striker scored a stunning goal against Arsenal to truly announce himself to the world.

It was a moment of pure audaciousness, a long-range effort which flashed past David Seaman in goal. After witnessing Rooney’s performance live, then Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger hailed the youngster as the “biggest English talent” he’d ever seen, adding that he hoped the teenager could deal with the attention.


Safe to say that Rooney dealt with the extra pressure rather well. He went on to sign for Manchester United in 2004 – where he scored a hat-trick in his first game – and became a global star.

He ended his career as Manchester United’s and England’s all-time top scorer, the latter record has since been broken by Harry Kane.

However, arguably the most exciting and successful teenage prospect in the history of the ‘Beautiful Game’ was Brazilian legend Pelé.

The global icon started his career at Brazilian club Santos, where he scored his first goal before his 16th birthday. But it was his performances for the national team which really got the world talking.

In 1958, at the age of 17 years and seven months, Pelé became the youngest person to play in a World Cup, but the forward did more than just participate.

On the way to lifting the trophy at such a tender age, the youngster scored Brazil’s only goal in the quarterfinal, netted a hat-trick in the semifinal against France and scored a brace in the final against Sweden.

It was a performance which paved the way for what many still call the greatest career in the history of the game.


Tennis is another sport which has seen plenty of young phenoms make a splash at the biggest events.

Most recently, British star Emma Raducanu stunned the world by winning the 2021 US Open at just 18 years old.

She became the first ever qualifier – male or female – to win a grand slam in the Open Era, after defeating Canadian Leylah Fernandez 6-4 6-3 in Flushing Meadows’ first all-teen final since 1999.

The Brit went on an incredible run throughout the tournament, not dropping a set in nine matches, and looked a shoo-in for future success on the circuit.


However, Radacanu has failed to hit the heights since, struggling with injuries and the demands of the senior tour.

Raducanu was not the first teenager to burst onto the women’s tour. Maria Sharapova announced herself to the world by winning Wimbledon as a 17-year-old in 2004, beating Serena Williams in the final.

Sharapova rose to the summit of the world rankings for the first time a year later and alongside her Wimbledon title, went on to win two French Open titles, one Australian Open and a US Open title.

In 2016, she tested positive for a prohibited substance, meldonium, at the Australian Open. She was initially banned from the sport for two years, before the punishment was reduced to 15 months after an appeal. On her return, she failed to hit her previous heights, announcing her retirement from the sport in 2020.


The NBA is one of the most competitive leagues in the world of sport, but a number of teenagers have found their place amid its storied ranks.

Look no further than LeBron James, who was already creating a stir during his high school career.

The fresh-faced James made his NBA debut for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003 when he was just 18, totaling 25 points, nine assists and six rebounds in his first game.

Despite his first performance not being enough to secure his team the win, it was a sign of things to come, and James was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year after his debut season.

Now a 21-year veteran of the league, the legend can boast four NBA titles, four MVP awards and, in February 2023, he became the league’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record which had stood for 39 years.


If James needed guidance on navigating the league has a teenager, he would’ve done well to look at the career of Kevin Garnett, another precocious talent to make a splash.

in 1995, the 6-foot-11 big man became the first player in 20 years to be drafted into the NBA straight out of high school, going on to make his debut for the Minnesota Timberwolves at 19.

The 15-time All-Star went on to have a memorable impact on the league, eventually winning an NBA title with the Boston Celtics in 2008.

NBA fans will now be keeping an eye on current teenage phenom Victor Wembanyama to see if the French 19-year-old can live up to those prodigies that went before him.


Competing on the global stage as a teenager was also no bother for swimming sensation Katie Ledecky.

At just 15, the American represented her country at the 2012 Olympics in London where she won gold in the 800m freestyle. Just two years later, she then won four gold medals at the World Championships in 2014.

In total, the swimmer can now boast seven Olympic gold medals and 21 world titles, making her the most decorated female swimmer in history and she is recognized as one of the greatest swimmers of all time – male or female.

Ledecky also still holds the women’s world record for 800m and 1,500m freestyle.



Snooker may not be everyone’s favorite sport but, requiring metronomic accuracy and the ability to remain calm in the most pressure-filled moments, it holds close comparisons with darts.

Arguably, no man has been better at it than the legendary Ronnie O’Sullivan. The Englishman may not be a household name around the world, but he’s considered by many as the most talented snooker player of all time.

His unrivaled career, like Littler, started when he was just a child. At the age of 10, O’Sullivan was doing things on a table that experienced professionals sometimes struggle to achieve.


His breakthrough came in 1993 when he won the UK Championship at just 17, beating legends of the game, such as Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry, on the way.

He would go on to win eight UK Championships – his latest coming in early December last year – and a joint modern-era record seven world titles during a historic career.

Away from the table, O’Sullivan has also been credited with bringing a new audience to the sport. His electric style of play shares similarities to Littler’s darts, who has also helped boost the game’s popularity.

According to Sky Sports, this year’s World Darts Championship final was watched by a record audience of over 4.8 million people, making it the most watched darts event ever.

It remains to be seen whether Littler can achieve even half of what these other sporting prodigies have done, but one thing is for sure, the eyes of the world will be watching whatever this darting sensation does next.