While Steve Cauthen was tall in the saddle, a number of other young athletes were making their marks in what proved to be a vintage year for youth. Smallest of them all was 8-year-old, 70-pound Wesley Paul of Columbia, Mo. (left), who barely reaches Bill Rodgers' fetlock. A well-seasoned runner—he went from a toddle to a trot at 3—Wesley flickered through and among the big folks at the New York City Marathon to finish the 26 miles, 385 yards in 3:00:31, his best time so far and an age-group world record. Another veteran campaigner, at 14, was California's Tracy Austin (right), a familiar figure in pigtails and pinafore, the U.S. women's 18-and-under singles champ and youngest ever to play at Wimbledon and in the U.S. Open. A gallery of others appears on the pages that follow, plus a profile of Eric Heiden, who got his start at 2—and now holds three world speed-skating championships.
After finishing eighth in the 1976 Olympics at Innsbruck, Linda Fratianne leaped ahead in 1977 to capture, first, the U.S. championship, then the world title and become queen at 16.
Twice the national junior champ by the time she was 17, Nancy Lopez has since turned pro, tied for second in two women's U.S. Opens and now, at 20, is a consistent money-winner.
Wilfredo Benitez didn't always leave them on the ropes, as he did here to Jose Chavez, but the 19-year-old retired undefeated as junior welter champ to take on more weighty affairs.
A freshman, Purdue's 18-year-old Mark Herrmann threw for 2,453 yards during the season and wound up eighth in total offense. Against Iowa, Herrmann passed for five touchdowns.
Brooklyn playground star and 38-point scorer at Fort Hamilton High, 6'6½" Albert King was basketball's most-recruited kid at 17, before signing at Maryland to start a college career.
A classic straddle-style jumper, 18-year-old Vladimir Yashchenko of the Ukraine soared to a world record 7'7¾"—and noted that he sleeps with his track shoes under his pillow.
Wheeling a rented race car on borrowed money, Californian Willy T. Ribbs, 22, ran away with England's Formula Ford title in his rookie year and won coveted "Star of Tomorrow" award.