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Sporting breakthroughs of 2013

Honda MotoGP rider Marc Marquez (L) of Spain listens to technicians before the first free practice session ahead the Valencia Motorcycle Gra
Honda MotoGP rider Marc Marquez (L) of Spain listens to technicians before the first free practice session ahead the Valencia Motorcycle Gra

(Reuters) - The top 10 sporting breakthroughs in 2013:

1. Marc Marquez, MotoGP champion

The 20-year-old Spanish rookie became the youngest MotoGP champion when he held his nerve to finish third in the final race of the season in Valencia to pip holder Jorge Lorenzo to the title.

Six race wins, nine poles and 16 podiums made him the second rookie to win the Premier Class in motorbike racing, among a plethora of records he set.

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2. Brianna Rollins, 100 meters hurdles world champion

The American turned heads when she clocked the fourth fastest time ever for the 100 meters hurdles at the world championship trials in June, shortly after turning professional.

She showed that was no fluke by taking world championship gold in Moscow one day before her 22nd birthday, pushing holder Sally Pearson of Australia into second place.

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3. Paul George, NBA's Most Improved Player

The Indiana Pacers surprised many in the NBA by reaching the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in nine years in May with Paul George at center stage.

Having lost forward Danny Granger to injury for the entire campaign, George stepped up and averaged a career-high 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game in the 2012-13 season.

His duels with Miami's LeBron James in the Finals were a particular highlight.

George won the NBA's Most Improved Player award, was handed a first All-Star selection and has continued that sterling work at the start of an impressive 2013-14 campaign.

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4. Gibraltar becomes UEFA member

The rocky territory became UEFA's 54th member association in May and its national team held Slovakia to a creditable 0-0 draw in a November friendly.

Gibraltar had gone through a bitter 14-year court marathon against Spain's objections to their footballing ambitions.

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5. Scott ends long Australian wait for Green Jacket

Australia has produced numerous great golfers but none tasted success in the U.S. Masters at Augusta until Adam Scott this year.

After eight runner-up finishes by his fellow countrymen, three achieved by Greg Norman, Scott finally ended the wait for a prized Green Jacket by overcomming Argentine Angel Cabrera in a playoff in April when he sunk a 15-foot putt on the second extra hole.

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6. Jose Fernandez, National League Rookie of the Year

The Cuban pitcher made an unexpected jump from the minor leagues to the Miami Marlins ballpen at the start of the season and the rookie tossed up some special numbers for a struggling team.

Fernandez posted a 12-6 record and his 2.19 earned run average was second in the National League behind Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw's 1.83.

The Marlins right-hander was also one of the finalists for the National League Cy Young Award.

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7. Nairo Quintana, second place at the Tour de France

The Colombian was asked by Movistar to help team leader Alejandro Valverde finish on the podium at the Tour de France in July but the young rookie was quickly promoted when his Spanish colleague fell off the pace.

The 23-year-old rode a brilliant race to finish second overall and also claim the white and polka-dot jerseys for the top young rider and the best climber.

Quintana's performance in the three-week race, during which he also won a stage, marked him out as a future winner of cycling's grandest prize.

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8. Chinese golf

Long earmarked as the production line for the next generation of major winners, the first seeds of China's development work in golf appeared in 2013.

Guan Tianling, earning praise from the great Tiger Woods among others, was the talk of Augusta in April when the 14-year-old become the youngest competitor at the U.S. Masters and made the cut to the amazement of most.

In May, 12-year-old compatriot Ye Wocheng became the youngest player to take part in a European Tour event when he competed at the Volvo China Open.

The U.S. PGA Tour announced last month they would be launching a new developmental circuit in China next year to build on the breakthroughs.

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9. Israel Folau ties Australian rugby try-scoring record

A series defeat by the British and Irish Lions, three defeats by New Zealand and two by South Africa left Australian rugby at a low ebb in 2013 but they managed to unearth an attacking gem in rugby league convert Israel Folau.

The former Australia Rules player had featured in only 14 matches for his club New South Wales Waratahs when he was handed his Wallabies debut in the first test against the Lions and he marked the occasion with two tries.

Eight more tries followed as the devastating 24-year-old runner equalled former Australia winger Lote Tuqiri's record of 10 test touchdowns in a season.

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10. Los Angeles Dodgers rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig

When Puig was promoted to the big leagues the Dodgers were last in the National League West Division with a 23-32 record, 7-1/2 games behind first place.

After his arrival the 23-year-old Cuban defector took baseball by storm and was largely credited with the team's turnaround.

With Puig in the lineup the Dodgers were 66-38 in the 104 games in which he took part and went on to win the division crown, 11 games ahead of their closest pursuers.

His arrival sparked record-breaking demand for his merchandise.

(Writing by Patrick Johnston; editing by Tony Jimenez)

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