At 14, Australia’s Yolane Kukla won National Titles in the 50 free and 50 fly at the 2010 Australian Championships. That’s not age group titles, that’s overall, swimming against the best, national titles. A few months later, at 15, she took a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in the 50 free. The meteoric rise of swimming prodigy Yolane Kukla, who only took up the sport seriously when she was 12, is well-documented.
But she turned 16 today, and is coming into her own as a huge part of Australia’s 2012 Olympic future. 16 was the same age where her American peer, Missy Franklin, went from “really good for a young swimmer” to just ridiculously good, period. Will Kukla have a similar breakout, perhaps at next year’s Australian Olympic Trials? That remains to be seen, but she’s certainly going to be a big piece of the Aussie relays as the country’s 3rd-ranked 100 freestyler in 2011.
So who now is the best 15-year old swimmer in the world? That honor goes to 15-year old Shiwen Ye of China (it’s amazing how many fast 15-year old girls there are in the world). She is the defending World Champion in the 200 IM, and in that race in Shanghai she posted a 2:08.90 that is the fastest time ever done in textile. As scary as it is, she won’t turn 16 until March 1, 2012.