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Stardom is elusive for many of the most talented athletes, but these five athletes are on track to become household names
It's never too early to prognosticate. Here are five athletes to watch in 2011: 1. Blake Griffin. After missing last year because of knee surgery, Griffin has taken the National Basketball Assn. by storm this season. On the court, he's averaging double-digit points and rebounds per game—stats comparable to current Power 100 member Dwight Howard. A human highlight reel, Griffin's the odds-on favorite to win the NBA's Sprite Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star Weekend. Playing home games amid the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles doesn't hurt, either. If there's one thing holding Griffin back from superstardom, it's his personality—which, unlike his basketball game, has been called boring. 2. Cliff Lee. The 32-year-old Lee, this list's elder statesman, has pitched in relative obscurity over the last few years as he zigzagging the country from Cleveland to Philadelphia, Seattle, and Dallas. Back with the Phillies after signing a five-year, $120 million deal this offseason, Lee's a cornerstone of what is arguably the best pitching rotation in baseball history. Should he return to his Cy Young form and help the Phillies return to the postseason, his improved stats and exposure should help catapult Lee onto the 2012 Power 100. Unlike the younger guns to watch, however, Lee is unlikely ever to make the list if he doesn't nail it next year. 3. Rory McIlroy. Even though this Northern Irishman will spend most of 2011 playing on the European Tour, McIlroy is an important name to know. At 21, he's already the 9th-ranked golfer in the world. McIlroy plans to play 11 or 12 tournaments in the U.S. this year; given his relatively light appearance load, that will include such high profile events as the Masters and the U.S. Open. McIlroy makes $10 million a year in endorsement deals from Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts, Oakley, and Titleist. He also appeared opposite Tiger Woods on the cover of EA Sports' Tiger Woods PGA 11. 4. Tim Tebow. Tebow didn't disappoint during 2010—that is, if you focus on his endorsement contracts and disregard his modest football stats. After declaring for the National Football League draft, Tebow landed multimillion-dollar deals with EA Sports (ERTS), Nike (NKE), Jockey Underwear, and FRS Healthy Energy drink. He ranked third among NFL players in jersey sales from April to December. Unfortunately, Tebow started just three games during his rookie season, not nearly enough to accumulate meaningful on-field metrics. Expect the Denver Broncos quarterback to get more playing time—and commercial time—in 2011. He needs to take advantage of both. 5. Caroline Wozniacki. Wozniacki in October ended Serena Williams' 49-week run as the No. 1 player on the WTA Tour. The Danish tennis star celebrated her top ranking by unveiling new endorsement deals with Proactiv, Turkish Airlines, and Aquiss rehydration drink. Because Wozniacki signed the deals late in 2010, her sponsors are activating early in 2011, right in time for the Australian Open. Should she hold onto her global No. 1 status throughout the WTA season, Wozniacki is a tennis shoe-in to make next year's Power 100 list.
Click here to see the world's most powerful athletes in the 2011 Power 100.