7 sporting stars you had no idea existed until 2016

Each year a new batch of sporting stars achieve such things as to make themselves household names, and 2016 is no different, with many of our heroes only rising to prominence in the last 12 months.

So with the year coming to a close, what better time to take a look at those who would probably have been a very low-scoring answer on Pointless at the end of 2015?

1. Marcus Rashford

Back in February, Manchester United’s first-choice striker got injured and was replaced by an unknown 18-year-old with twig-like legs.

Who was that again? Step forward, Marcus Rashford.

After nailing two goals on his Europa League debut, the electric Mancunian repeated the feat against Arsenal in February, effectively ending the Gunners’ title-challenge.

Unlike many young players who play an incredible game then tail off, Rashford came good time and again with important goals, scoring on both his League Cup and England debuts.

And, having retired Martin Demichelis with a piece of skill, he burrowed his way into United hearts by scoring an unforgettable winner against City before being selected to go to Euro 2016 with England in the summer. Not a bad year, then.

2. Maro Itoje

The 22-year-old former public schoolboy has shot to fame and respect in the rugby world with his imperious performances, unmatched power, agility, and leadership qualities.

At 6ft 5ins, he is remarkably agile, skilful and composed, setting him well apart from more cumbersome and ungainly second-row forwards.

He was called up to the full England side in January by Eddie Jones, made his debut against Italy, and put in a man-of-the-match performance against Wales in the Six Nations.

Itoje should travel with the Lions next summer to New Zealand, in what will be the greatest challenge he has faced in his young career.

And, as if he didn’t have enough going for him, in his spare time he studies politics at the School of Oriental and African studies.

3. Aron Gunnarsson

The tiny Nordic nation of Iceland has just 320,000 citizens, giving them a mere handful of eligible football-age men to choose from.

One of them is Aron Gunnarsson, 27, who plays for Cardiff City at club level, and holds his national team together on the world stage, helping them become much greater than the sum of their individual parts.

He bestrode Euro 2016 like a bearded colossus, the beating heart of a team that defied a continent’s expectations to reach the quarter-finals.

Backed by the hard-voiced “Viking chant” of their fans, the Icelanders melted hearts with their under-underdog exploits.

The crowning moment came when they humiliated an England squad with hundreds of millions of pounds of talent, beating them 2-1 and dumping the Three Lions from the competition.

4. Simone Biles

Simone Biles is 19 years old. Simone Biles is arguably the best gymnast of all-time.

The 4ft 8ins USA teen seems to defy physics with her super-short mega-muscled body moving in impossible intricate turns and flips through the air.

Biles, from Ohio, was very well-known in the relatively niche world of gymnastics.

But, when the world held its collective breath in awe at her unmatched Olympic displays – in which she won five medals – she became truly famous.

Since, she has been included in the BBC’s 100 Women and was on the Time magazine Person of the Year shortlist.

5. Sam Quek

It’s a sorry state of affairs when an appearance on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here makes you a household name more than an Olympic gold medal, but hey: 2016.

Sam Quek was a member of the sensational Team GB women’s hockey side that beat the Netherlands on penalties in the Olympic final, in a fixture that captivated the nation.

She then appeared on our screens in the jungle, where she battled bugs and more to finish fourth – an impressive result for someone whose sport does not command TV time.

6. Danny Willett

Golf’s majors often produce shock winners, with such a large field to pick a winner from. People don’t dominate like Tiger Woods did any more.

But 29-year-old Yorkshireman Danny Willett’s Masters victory this year really did come from nowhere. Willett had finished in the top 10 of a major just once before; he only made his first grand slam cut mid-way through the 2013 season.

And yet he edged out one of the best in the game at Augusta, USA’s Jordan Spieth, to win one of the most prestigious awards in sport: the green jacket. Posting a round of five under on the final 18 holes of The Masters proved to be enough, as Spieth wilted under pressure, dropping four shots in a single hole.

Furthermore, Willett’s brother managed to tweet his way to stardom.

A mixture of grand slam success and a funny brother made Willett a household name – a powerful combination.

7. Alex Iwobi

When people start to realise you’re the nephew of Premier League legend Jay-Jay Okocha (so good they named him twice) there’s pressure to start performing.

So it’s a good job Arsenal’s latest academy product is living up to the reputation – the 20-year-old was thrown into the deep end against Barcelona in the Champions League in March, before going on to score goals against Everton and Watford in the Premier League to ensure he kept his place in the side.

Adding balance to Arsenal’s flanks, the man who has chosen to play for Nigeria internationally has demonstrated maturity beyond his years and become an immediate fan favourite.

Furthermore, he has continued to show attacking output, scoring against Basel and Stoke this season, as well as a goal for Nigeria in a World Cup qualifier against Zambia. By all accounts his uncle is pretty proud.

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