International Sports Stars US Fans Should Know

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistOctober 22, 2015

International Sports Stars US Fans Should Know

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    Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

    Chad le Clos and Virat Kohli are big sports names, globally speaking. If you don't know anything about them, not to worry—you're about to. And if you do, kudos. Your knowledge of the international sports landscape is impressive.

    The following athletes are active international sports stars who American fans likely don't know about. That means two things. First, these aren't guys like Lionel Messi or Roger Federer whose fame leaves no stone on Earth unturned. Second, these are not international stars who play in American leagues (think, Alexander Ovechkin in the NHL).

    Niche sports fans might know these names, but many in the U.S. probably don't. Certainly, there are hundreds of athletes who fit this bill, but the following 16 might be of particular interest.

    Why? Some of these athletes look to make a big splash at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Others might become big names in American sports eventually. And others, well others will just help broaden your horizons about some of the world's most popular sports.

Jaheel Hyde

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    Jaheel Hyde is a teenage Jamaican hurdler who has set a youth world record in the 110-meter hurdles and a national junior record in the 400-meter event.

    Why you should know him: Usain Bolt isn't the only Jamaican runner people will be talking about at the 2016 Olympic Games. The Olympic Organizing Committee identified him as a budding young star to keep an eye on.  

Kimi Raikkonen

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    Martin Meissner/Associated Press

    Kimi Raikkonen is a Finnish Formula One driver. He has driven everything from a rally car to a snowmobile, according to Formula1.com, and he won the F1 championship in 2007.

    Why you should know him: Not only is Raikkonen a great driver, but he is also the most popular driver in F1, according to a survey of 200,000 fans, reported by Daniel Johnson of the Telegraph. Plus, according to this compilation of Raikkonen antics from Car Throttle, he looks a little like the Rob Gronkowski of race cars.

Petra Kvitova

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Petra Kvitova is a Czech professional tennis player. She turned pro in 2006 and has won Wimbledon twice. She recently qualified for the WTA Finals for the fifth consecutive year. 

    Why you should know her: Serena and Venus Williams dominate the American mindshare in terms of women's tennis, but Kvitova is a real star on an international scale. She is currently No. 5 in the world rankings, and she is also one of the highest-paid female athletes of 2015, according to Forbes.

Kevin Maitan

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Kevin Maitan is a young shortstop from Venezuela who, per Eric Cole of Talking Chop, has been compared to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.

    Why you should know him: If all goes according to plan, you will see Maitan in a major league uniform one day. In fact, ESPN baseball writer Keith Law reported the Atlanta Braves and the teenager have a "handshake agreement" for 2016.

Liam Phillips

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    Liam Phillips is a British BMX racer who just made a splash in September by winning back-to-back titles in the BMX Supercross World Cup.

    Why you should know him: Phillips is an established star in what is a relatively new and exciting Olympic event. (BMX racing only became an Olympic sport in 2008.) Look for him to do big things in Rio.

Alex Grimaldo and Sergi Samper

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    Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar—these are the names that come to mind along with FC Barcelona. Still, the Champions League titleholders are even more stacked than those names would suggest.

    Alex Grimaldo and Sergi Samper are two young Spanish prospects currently playing on Barcelona B, which is just what it sounds like.

    Why you should know them: Simply put, to keep up on La Liga and Champions League drama. Per Lee Roden of ESPNFC, Grimaldo and Samper have been the source of controversy this year, since neither has been called up despite ongoing injury issues on the A team. Now, it looks like one or both of Barca's best young players could look for greener pastures.

Aliya Mustafina

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    Andy Wong/Associated Press

    Aliya Mustafina is a Russian gymnast who won the all-around world championship in 2010. She also took home bronze in the event at the 2012 Olympics in London and helped the Russian team to Olympic silver.

    Per Nick Zaccardi of NBC Sports, Mustafina will miss the upcoming World Gymnastics Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, with back pain.

    Why you should know her: She is thought to be the biggest competition to American Simone Biles for the women's all-around title in Rio. 

    Retired American gymnast Shannon Miller told Katie Rosenbrock of the Active Times, "While there are so many incredible athletes competing, these two will not only have the difficulty and scores to win, but both put on a great show."

Stan Wawrinka

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    Michel Euler/Associated Press

    Stan Wawrinka is a Swiss tennis player who has been on the scene for some time. He and Roger Federer won an Olympic gold medal in doubles together in 2008.

    Wawrinka turned pro in 2002 but won his first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, in 2014 by beating Rafael Nadal in the final. In June, he made another big splash by taking down Novak Djokovic to win the French Open.

    Why you should know him: Wawrinka is officially a big deal. He is currently ranked No. 4 on the WTA world tennis rankings, behind Djokovic, Andy Murray and Federer.

Lewis Hamilton

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    Luca Bruno/Associated Press

    Lewis Hamilton is a British Formula One driver and two-time champion on the verge of possibly claiming a third title. F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone called him the sport's greatest champion, per Mirror Online.

    Why you should know him: If you don't know about Hamilton yet, you probably will. According to Paul Weaver of the Guardian, Hamilton has a "jet-set lifestyle" and "appetite for party-going." Weaver reported Bobby Epstein, chairman and co-founder of the Circuit of the Americas, said, "Fans relate to human beings, not metal. And what Lewis is doing is great for the business. We also like winners over here, and Lewis is the biggest winner out there."

Richie McCaw

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    Ross Setford/Associated Press

    Richie McCaw is the captain of the New Zealand national rugby team. He is a World Cup champion, three-time International Rugby Board Player of the Year and the most capped player in New Zealand's history. That means he is basically New Zealand rugby's Iron Man, with more international match starts than any other player.

    Why you should know him: McCaw is one of the most famous names in international rugby, and his story is timely. On October 24, he and the New Zealand All Blacks will play South Africa in the World Cup semifinal. Plus, he does a mean Haka dance.

Mayra Aguiar

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    Mayra Aguiar is a Brazilian judoka, Olympic bronze medalist and 2014 world judo champion.

    Why you should know her: Kayla Harrison was the first American to win a gold medal in judo, and Aguiar looks to be a serious contender to steal her thunder in Rio.

    In addition, UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey started out with judo, and her rise to fame has helped shed light on her first sport. According to Globo Esporte (h/t Lucas Rezende of Bloody Elbow), Aguiar might even be interested in joining Rousey in the UFC one day.

Manuel Neuer

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    Manuel Neuer is the goalkeeper for the German national team and Bayern Munich. Soccer fans or those who paid close attention to the 2014 World Cup definitely know him, but he hasn't gained notoriety in the U.S. on par with that of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Neuer was integral to Germany's victory and took home the Golden Glove for best goalkeeper in the tournament.

    Why you should know him: Neuer is in the conversation of the world's best at his position. Adam Shergold of Mail Online wrote, "Neuer remains the world's best goalkeeper. His reactions are almost feline, his shot-stopping abilities second to none."

Chad Le Clos

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    Daniel Ochoa De Olza/Associated Press

    Chad le Clos is a swimmer from South Africa. He took home gold in the 200-meter butterfly and silver in the 100-meter butterfly at the 2012 London Olympic Games.  

    Why you should know him: Paul Gittings of CNN described le Clos as an "arch-rival" to American swimming legend Michael Phelps, who, in case you hadn't heard, is looking to make one last splash in Rio. The two have even engaged in some friendly (or not so friendly) trash talk leading up to 2016.

Byung-Ho Park

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    First baseman Byung-ho Park is a two-time MVP of the Korea Baseball Organization and likely MLB prospect in 2016. He has back-to-back seasons with 50 or more home runs to his name.  

    Why you should know him: Park is likely to be posted after the 2015 MLB season, so look for his name to blow up your baseball offseason transaction news wire.

Virat Kohli

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    Virat Kohli is an Indian cricketer and one of the world's best batsmen, according to current International Cricket Council rankings.  

    Why you should know him: While not big in the U.S., cricket is certainly popular on a global scale. According to Viraj Patel of Sports Illustrated’s the Cauldron, one billion people watched a cricket match between rivals India and Pakistan in February. Kohli is one of the sport's best and most popular players.