CHILD PRODIGIES

March 22, 1997Tara Lipinski, aged 14 years and nine months, becomes the youngest women’s World Figure Skating Champion.

In psychology research literature, the term child prodigy is defined as a person under the age of ten who produces meaningful output in some domain to the level of an adult expert professional

KIM UNG-YONG // ACTUAL GENIUS

Korean mega-genius Kim Ung-Yong (1962-) could have conversations at six months, could read in Japanese, Korean, German, and English by the age of 4 and could perform complex calculus by the time he was 5. From the ages of 3 to 6, he sat in on University physics courses. At one time, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized Kim as having the world’s highest IQ, which was estimated to be over 210. Yowza.

JUDIT POLGAR // CHESS GRANDMASTER

Child Prodigy Judit Polgar - Chess Grandmaster at 17

Hungarian chess grandmaster Judit Polgar (1976-) began playing in tournaments at the age of 6 and, by age 11, she had defeated her first grandmaster, Vlatko Kovacevic. She became the best female chess player in history and was named a grandmaster at age 15 in 1991 (at the time, the youngest ever).

WOLFGANG MOZART // COMPOSER

Child Prodigy Wolfgang Mozart

Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) is the child prodigy poster child. He began playing the harpsichord at age 3 and learned to play his first piece of music three days before his fifth birthday. He was composing his own music at 5 and, at 6, embarked on a three-and-a-half year European tour with his father and older sister, who was not too shabby of a musician herself.

WAYNE GRETZKY // HOCKEY PLAYER

Canadian hockey star Wayne Gretzky (1961-) was playing against 10-year-olds when he was only 6. The uniforms intended for the 10-year-olds were far too large for the undersized Gretzky, who tucked his sweater into the right side of his pants: a tradition he continued throughout his hockey career. When he was 10, he scored an incredible 378 goals and added 139 assists in just one season.

STEVIE WONDER // MUSICIAN

Despite being blind from birth and growing up in poverty, Stevie Wonder (born Steveland Judkins Morris) managed to become a skilled musician in early childhood, learning to write music, sing, and play the piano, organ, harmonica, and drums. In 1962, at age 12, he began recording music and performing professionally under the name Little Stevie Wonder. Although his stage name suggested a novelty child performer, he quickly established himself as a serious musician who combined creative songwriting and mastery of disparate styles of music including rhythm and blues, soul, funk, rock, and jazz. By his 21st birthday he had written or co-written more than a dozen hit songs. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, when he was only 38 years old.

Child geniuses: What happens when they grow up?

Andrew Halliburton, 23, began studying maths with secondary school pupils at 8

Before Andrew was two, he recognised the numbers and letters when Countdown came on TV in the living room of the family’s flat in Dundee. Andrew did Mensa puzzles in newspapers and played on the computer in his bedroom. When he was eight, his primary school headteacher phoned around secondary schools to find somewhere he could study higher-level maths – “Genius Andrew Halliburton” was how the Sun referred to him. He took his Highers, got top grades and went straight to an applied computing course at university. He dropped out in his first year and got a job at McDonald’s. Out of place, and unsure of what to do with his life, he nearly got fired. “What could be worse than getting fired from McDonald’s?” he says.

Jennifer Pike, 20, became, at 12, the youngest winner of Young Musician of the Year

In 2002, Jennifer, aged 12, became the youngest winner of BBC Young Musician of the Year. Instead of burning out, she has taken what critics called “a slow-burn approach”: she eschewed publicity for quiet but intense musical study, and is now balancing an undergraduate degree at Oxford with 40 concerts a year around the world.

John Nunn, 54, was, at 15, the youngest Oxford undergraduate since Cardinal Wolsey

Unlike many celebrated underage undergraduates who followed, John didn’t go off the rails. He obtained his degree, taught at Oxford and became a professional chess player, rising to grandmaster and winning tournaments. He is now a successful chess author and publisher, living in Surrey with his wife, son and at least 1,200 books about chess with exotic, sinister titles: Mastering The Najdorf, Beating The Sicilian II.

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