There is an old and cliché saying, “Turn your setback into a comeback”. And although it is true, the field of Sports can be a little cruel in terms of setbacks. You are at the top of the mountain and a career-threatening injury could come out of nowhere. But as another adage saying goes, “Fall Seven Times, stand up eight”, champion players never give up. And there are a number of comeback stories to prove that. For the ones with the fighting spirit, “the career-threatening injury” is just another injury. They might fall down but with grit and the will to reach the top once again, a number of athletes have set incredible examples in front of the entire world. Here are 10 such comeback stories of athletes who never gave up:
Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. But do you know what made him the greatest? His will to fight regardless of adverse situations! Now, this is not the story of a career-threatening injury but more about Jordan’s Never Give Up attitude.
In the 1997 NBA Finals, Chicago Bulls went from 2-0 to 2-2 in the first four games. At 2 AM, just hours before the fifth Game, Jordon called his personal trainer in the room. MJ was diagnosed with food poisoning and was informed that there was no way he could take part in the game.
But Jordon was not sitting out for the most crucial game of the series. Dehydrated, slow and weak Jordan stepped on the court. And despite starting slow and not being at his best, the legend found his groove. Jordan scored 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 1 block in 44 minutes. Bulls won the game 90-88 to take the 3-2 lead. They went on to wrap up the title in the 6th game, where Jordon, still not fully fit, helped them to a 90-86 win.
That fifth game is now known as ‘The Flu Game’.
Pullela Gopichand was also once a young Badminton prodigy, years before he helped India win two Olympic medals with his coaching. But the story of his playing career would have been very different than what it is today.
The young Hyderabadi shuttler was making waves in the national badminton scene in the 1990s. But a freakish accident in 1994 almost ended Gopi’s career before it could properly start. In the doubles match, his partner collided with him and landed heavily on Gopichand’s knees. The duo still continued playing, further injuring Gopichand’s knees.
Gopichand had to undergo a complex knee surgery that required more than 30 stitches and forced him to spend a year away from the game. The youngster’s doctor realized that his family could not afford the expenses of the operation and asked them to pay with just one thing – All England Badminton Title!
And seven years after that incident, Gopichand completed the transaction – by winning 2001 All England Open. He became only the second Indian to win the famous competition.
We know Muhammad Ali as the greatest boxer of all time. But life wasn’t always the same for ‘The Greatest’. Ali’s story is not the one about him coming back from a career-threatening injury but much more than that.
Ali had already won the Championship in 1964 despite facing difficulties due to his religious beliefs. But in 1966, when Ali refused to be inducted in the armed forces, he was denied a boxing license in every state of the United States. He spent three and a half years away from the ring – from ages 25 to 29, the prime period of any boxer!
But he still made a sensational comeback after being allowed to fight once again. Ali won his second championship against George Foreman in 1974, at the age of 32. It was one of the biggest upsets at the time as Ali was considered an underdog in that fight.
And the rest, as they say, is the history! Despite having his prime years unfairly stolen away from him, Ali returned to the ring and eventually retired as ‘The Greatest’.
The Maharashtra born girl was on the top of the mountain in 2014, winning a Gold medal at the Commonwealth Games and a silver in Asian Games. But Rahi, probably should not have competed in both competitions. Why?
Just before the Commonwealth Games, Rahi tripped and fractured her elbow but continued participating in competitions without proper recovery. It only made her elbow worse which took almost two years to recover.
Rahi did not want to risk surgery and hence decided to opt for a slow but proper recovery. Two years away from the sport were not only difficult physically but also mentally as she missed the 2016 Olympics.
But the shooter came back strong after the recovery and won the Gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games. Rahi has also qualified for Tokyo 2020 and will look to redeem her missed opportunity of 2016 with a medal in Japan.
Serena Williams is arguably the greatest women tennis player in history. And when you have 23 Grand Slams in singles competition, 14 in Doubles, 2 in Mixed Doubles and 4 Olympic Gold Medals, there is a very little room for an argument as well.
But Serena’s career has also been full of ups and downs. Her first major injury came in 2003 when she missed eight months away from the game. The US star had to battle with a number of injuries later in her career but rose from the ashes like a Phoenix hungry for success every single time.
But her most incredible success story has to be her recent comeback. Serena won 2017 Australian Open defeating her sister, Venus in the final. And it was after her pregnancy news in April, when the world realized what she had actually done in Melbourne – Serena won a Grand Slam when she was seven-right weeks pregnant!
And when she made her return for the 2018 season, Serena was 181st in the World rankings. Although she hasn’t won any Grand Slams since her pregnancy-induced problems, Serena made it to the 2018 Wimbledon finals and the US Open final. She is currently ranked 11th in the WTA rankings, inspiring a number of her fellow women athletes to take the field even after the pregnancy.
What Serena Williams did was absolutely exceptional. But our very own Mary Kom has done it not once but twice. Back in 2008, Mary Kom returned after giving birth to her twins and won the 4th consecutive World Championship.
But it was her second hiatus which was truly remarkable. After her London Olympic medal, now a 5-time World Champion was away from the ring for 18 months. Mary gave birth to her third kid but her injuries made life really difficult for her.
Despite struggling with injuries and going through multiple surgeries, Mary returned to win the gold at the 2014 Asian Games. Another frustrating two-year hiatus followed from 2016 to 2018. But like a fine wine, 35-year old Mary won the record 6th World Championship and the gold in the 2018 Commonwealth Games upon her return.
We all know the story of Yuvraj Singh’s comeback but it would be a shame if the southpaw was left from this list. India’s 2011 World Cup hero, Man of the Series, Yuvraj was diagnosed with Lung Cancer after the tournament.
The all-rounder spent two years away from the game, recovering with the help of doctors in the United States. While everyone expected Yuvraj to never take the field once again, he made his comeback in 2012.
Yuvraj not only returned to the game he dearly loved but also featured in the 2012 T20 World Cup. He continued to be a part of India’s limited overs squad and kept his place for the 2014 T20 World Cup and even played a role in India’s 2017 Champions Trophy campaign.
Yuvraj’s stocks never fell despite his illness, as he was bought by RCB for ₹14 crores in the 2014 IPL Auctions. He became the most expensive player to be sold in the IPL when Delhi Daredevils bought him for ₹16 crores the very next year. Yuvraj went on to win the IPL with Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2016 and with Mumbai Indians in 2019.
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Flicker Singh, former captain of the Indian Hockey team, had to go through one of the most unfortunate incidents an athlete can ever experience in his career. Sandeep made his international debut in 2004 and helped his team win the Asia Cup in the same year. He quickly made a name for himself as one of the best drag-flickers.
But a career-threatening incident rocked Sandeep’s world in 2006. Traveling in the Kalka Shatabdi Express, the Drag Flicker was on his way to the National Camp for the upcoming World Cup when he was accidentally shot by an RPF jawan in the back. The bullet fractured his lower rib, puncturing his pancreas and damaging kidneys and the liver. Sandeep was almost paralyzed and had to spend a year on the wheelchair. Doctors asked him to forget playing for India ever again.
The warrior that he was, Sandeep not only recovered from the accident but also returned to the national team. He became the captain of the side in 2009 and won the 2009 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and bagged the Silver medal in 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Sandeep also helped India return to the 2012 Olympics after the team embarrassingly missed the 2008 Olympics. He was the top scorer in the Olympic qualifiers, scoring 16 goals.
Yet another legend in his field, Tiger Woods has also seen numerous ups and downs throughout his glorious Golf career. And it wasn’t just his injuries but Woods has also overcome a number of emotional setbacks as well.
In 2008, the American had to undergo knee surgery and spent two months away from the game. Woods came back to win the US Open in the dramatic fashion, beating everybody on “one leg”. But he missed the rest of the season due to yet another knee surgery.
But it was his personal issues which made life an emotional hell for the Golfer. In 2009, a number of his extramarital affairs came out, ending his marriage in an ugly manner. Almost all of his sponsors ended their deals and stopped commercials involving him.
Woods spent time away from the sport once again but his performances were nowhere near the best after his return. His injured back forced him to take a break once again so much so that there were talks of Tiger Woods being finished.
But the Golfer recently won the 2019 Master Tournament, winning a major championship after 11 years to mark his return to the top. Setbacks – Physical or Emotional, simply cannot stop champion athletes.
Probably the biggest comeback in Sports history happened after one of the most horrific injury. Niki Lauda, one of the best Formula 1 drivers of all time, was in the prime of his career in 1976. The Ferrari driver had won the 1975 World Champion and was leading the title race in 1976 as well, ahead of arch-rival James Hunt.
In the German GP, Lauda was involved in a horrifying accident, where his Ferrari crashed and caught fire. Lauda suffered severe burns to his head and the toxic gases entered his lungs and blood before he could be pulled out of the car. The Austrian went into a coma after the accident and was even given last rites in the hospital.
However, is a tale of utter surprise and miracle, Lauda made a return that shocked the whole world. Having missed a couple of races of the season, the determined driver was back on track just after six weeks. His head had scars from the fire and he lost most of his right ear and hair on the right side. Lauda eventually lost the 1976 title to James Hunt by only one point, before coming back strong next season to win his second World Championship. The legendary driver eventually retired in 1985 after winning his third and final Championship in 1984.