A 19-year-old tennis phenom, three of soccer’s biggest stars and a female racing driver outpacing the men highlight an impressive group of athletes among this year’s honorees.
By Matt Craig, Ethan Davison and Henry Flynn
The past year has seen a new wave of European talent rise to the top of their respective sports, at a remarkably young age. British racing driver Jamie Chadwick is setting the pace, having already captured all three of the female W Series championships since its inception in 2019, and becoming the first female to win a British GT Championship and a BRDC British Formula 3 race, all by the age of 24.
In December, she signed with Andretti Autosport to become the first female racing driver in 13 years to compete fulltime in the male-dominated Indy NXT Championship. At the time, CEO and Chairman Michael Andretti said Chadwick has the talent to eventually compete in the NTT IndyCar Series, but she’s setting her sights even higher – aiming to become the first female to race in Formula One since the 1970s.
“I want to have the ultimate amount of success myself. I want to make Formula One,” she tells Forbes. “But my legacy, I want to inspire the next generation of women to get involved in the sport.”
Chadwick leads the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe Sports & Games class of 2023, which highlights the best young athletes, developers and entrepreneurs in the worlds of sports and gaming.
This year’s class was selected from hundreds of nominations, submitted through a public online nomination form and generated from research and conversations with industry sources. Candidates must be 29 or younger as of March 7, 2023; they also could not have been previously named to a Forbes 30 Under 30 list, eliminating such alums as Class of 2022’s Kylian Mbappe. They were evaluated by a panel of judges including Dinga Bakaba, studio director and co-creative director at French games developer Arkane Studios; Nicolas Julia, CEO of the fantasy sports platform Sorare; Maheta Molango, CEO of the Professional Footballers Association; and Carlota Planas, cofounder of women’s soccer agency Unik Sports Management.
The final list represents 12 athletes, nine sets of entrepreneurs (cofounders are included together in the same entry), four game developers, three sports business professionals and two esports athletes, which showcase the diversity of the industries. Of the nominees, 13 are women and 13 identify as persons of color.
The youngest person on this year’s list is Carlos Alcaraz, who at age 19 finished 2022 as the youngest male tennis player ever to end a year ranked No. 1 in the world. His rise to superstardom, which has attracted the attention of sponsors like Rolex, BMW and Nike, earned him $10.9 million in the twelve months preceding August of last year, according to Forbes estimates. That doesn’t include the $2.6 million purse he claimed for capturing his first major championship at the U.S. Open in the fall.
Erling Haaland is hunting even bigger paydays as the highest-paid member of this year’s class. The 22-year-old Norwegian striker leads the Premier League in scoring by a wide margin and is fast becoming one of the new faces of global football. Forbes estimates $35 million in earnings on the field and another $4 million in endorsements, and he is at the heart of a bidding war for a new boot sponsorship that could earn him as much as $18 million per year.
Then there’s 28-year-old Serbian Nikola Jokic, the reigning back-to-back NBA most valuable player and favorite to become the first in nearly 40 years to win the award three consecutive times. Alexia Putellas, 29, followed up one of the most dominant years in women’s soccer ever in 2021, winning the Women’s Champions League crown with FC Barcelona and a trifecta of year-end player awards – the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Award, the Ballon d’Or Féminin, and The Best FIFA Women’s Player – and becoming the first ever repeat winner in two of the three accolades. Diede De Groot, 26, capped 2022 with her second straight “Golden Slam,” capturing all four major championships in women’s wheelchair tennis. George Russell, just 25, joined Formula 1 powerhouse Mercedes last year and proceeded to outrace teammate and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton for a fourth place finish in the driver’s standings. As for Olympians, Jade Jones holds the United Kingdom’s first two golds in taekwondo, Petra Vlhová has Slovakia’s first alpine skiing gold, and Janja Gambret won the first ever gold medal offered in sport climbing.
Meanwhile in the gaming world, women like Chloe Kwok, Ellen Shelley and Caroline Bitterly are carrying the torch for a diversified studio production pipeline. Kwok records seven instruments as a musician for games like Microsoft’s blockbuster Sea of Thieves. Shelley is currently a lighting artist for a flagship virtual reality experience at one of Sony’s Playstation studios. And Bitterly has worked as a narrative designer for titles like Sony’s AAA “Horizon: Forbidden West.” In esports, Alexandre “Kaydop” Courant might well be the most decorated “Rocket League” player of all time, and Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom has won over 60 tournaments across “Counter Strike” and “Valorant.”
Despite the multi-billion dollar companies continuing to dominate both the sports and games industries, other standouts from the 2023 list include entrepreneurs who have proven unafraid to innovate. Daniel Olmedo’s cloud gaming company Nware has raised $3.3 million with hopes of democratizing gaming by allowing players to play without consoles. Flavia Mazzanti is developing VR games for the blind and visually impaired with her venture Immerea. And the cofounders of Beyond Creative – Kasper Weber, Liam McMahon and Thomas Hall – are building branded experiences in the “Fortnite” metaverse for partners like the NFL, NBA, Timberland, Chipotle and Armani.